Response from John Mason MSP and Anas Sarwar MP on NSA/GCHQ Surveillance

After the revelations last week concerning the active weakening of encryption technologies by the NSA and GCHQ, I used to get in touch with my local MSP John Mason, and MP Anas Sarwar.

The message I sent to John is below, with a similar variant used for Anas Sarwar:

Dear John Mason,

Yesterday a number of major media outlets published revelations that GCHQ, in partnership with the American NSA, have been systematically working to defeat encryption systems used on the Internet. Despite a move many years ago to have vulnerabilities inserted into encryption software being defeated, these agencies have clandestinely used their considerable resources to do this extra-legally.

In actively reducing the integrity of secure communications, GCHQ has also weakened the protection of consumers online. With un-named vulnerabilities being implemented into systems that we have been led to believe are safe, such as online banking, and e-commerce, these have been opened up to exploitation by third party hackers. The Internet is a more dangerous place because of these actions.

Much is still unclear about the capabilities possessed by GCHQ and the NSA, such as what technologies that are now vulnerable. Answers need to be provided, as these agencies have far over-stepped their remit, effectively engaging in mass surveillance of their own citizens, in breach of the right to privacy afforded by the various International conventions.

Whilst I understand that this can arguably be classed as a reserved matter, I believe that it is so important that the actions of GCHQ cannot be left un-challenged. I ask that you would publicly challenge GCHQ for details of the technologies that they have exploited; to cease the invasion of the privacy of those in Scotland; and to demand that the UK Government explains why this has been allowed to happen.

I look forward to your response,

Yours sincerely,

Stephen Blythe

secure email

I have always found John Mason to be helpful, and determined to stand up for his constituents. His response is below:

Dear Stephen

Thanks for your email.

In the first place I am happy to agree with your main points that GCHQ or whoever should not be spying on their own citizens.  You can quote me publically[sic] on that if you want.

However, how to deal with it is more difficult.  In the first place I think there is wide public support for spying by the state on suspected terrorists and in fact when we do see terrorist acts we often have a public reaction as to why the state had not been more proactive in clamping down sooner.  The film ‘Minority Report’ (I think) raised some of these questions in how far the state goes in preventing crimes happening.

Secondly, I believe GCHQ has the full support of the UK government/establishment.  They see it as their job to do all this kind of thing.  So asking them not to do it is a bit like asking a cat to stop being a cat.

Thirdly, my guess is that the UK establishment is also spying on the Scottish government.

On a personal basis, I tend to work on the assumption that my phone calls may be tapped, my emails and texts are likely tobe read by people who should not be doing so.  Can we change all this?  I’m not sure.  I would certainly likely to and am happy to support any campaign on this.  Whistle blowers are certainly part of the answer.  Unless we can get insiders to go public, I doubt we will find out much information that the establishment does not want us to have.

I am happy to discuss any of this with you face to face if that would be easier.  I guess I am a bit sceptical but I am open to persuasion that things can be made better.


John Mason

The response from Anas Sarwar is below:

Dear Mr Blythe,

Anas Sarwar MP has asked me to thank you for your email below regarding allegations about data collection and sharing by UK intelligence agencies.

These are, of course, extremely serious allegations and it is vital that they are thoroughly investigated and that we ensure there is effective oversight and a clear legal framework to oversee our intelligence operations.

Mr Sarwar appreciates that our intelligence and security services undertake vital, often unrecognised, work to protect our security and to counter the threats we face. Given the global nature of their work it is also crucial that our intelligence agencies are able to share information across international borders with our allies, including the USA.

However, he also believes there needs to be public confidence that our intelligence agencies are themselves law-abiding and accountable, and that any intelligence information received from the USA or any other country has been obtained legally.

These recent allegations have caused real public concern and underline once again the need for effective Parliamentary and Ministerial oversight of all three of our intelligence organisations. The Government have been asked a number of questions about these allegations in the House of Commons and by the Intelligence and Security Committee. The Committee was set up in 1994 to examine the expenditure, administration and policy of the country’s intelligence agencies, and is currently looking into the issues around GCHQ that have been raised by recent events.

Mr Sarwar has asked me to assure you that he will continue to monitor this important issue closely and will try to raise some of the points you mentioned with Government Ministers in Parliament Ministerial question time. [sic]

Thank you once again for writing to Mr Sarwar and sharing your views with him.

Yours sincerely,

Yassar Abbas
Office of Anas Sarwar MP
Deputy Leader of the Scottish Labour Party
Member of Parliament for Glasgow Central

Rm 221-223 Portcullis,
House of Commons,

I since have invited John Mason to come and meet with the Glasgow Open Rights Group members to discuss the issues involved.