17/09/2015 12:13 BST | Updated 17/09/2015 12:59 BST

MI5 Chief Calls For Increased Surveillance Capabilities Ahead Of 'Snoopers Charter' Bill

MI5 chief Andrew Parker has called for increased support from US tech companies like Google and Facebook in helping them to track the communications of terrorists.

Parker is the first MI5 chief in the service's 106-year history to give a live interview and spoke mainly about the moral decisions that have to be made surrounding government surveillance.

Andrew Parker is MI5's Director General and the 17th to hold the position since it was founded.

The interview comes just weeks away from the government's proposed first draft bill of the controversial 'Snooper's Charter' that would replace the current Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act.

Parker's comments refer to the fact that many of the communication services we use today (WhatsApp, iMessage and Snapchat) all use a feature called end-to-end encryption.

This means that Google, Apple and Facebook can't actually see the contents of the messages that are being sent, which then of course means neither can governments.

Services like WhatsApp use end-to-end encryption.

Arguing the case against end-to-end encryption Parker urges the companies to help saying:

"If it's something that concerns terrorism or concerns child sex exploitation or some other appalling area of crime, then why would the company not come forward?"

“MI5 and others need to be able to navigate the internet to find terrorist communication, we need to be able to use data sets to be able to join the dots to be able to find and stop the terrorists who mean us harm before they are able to bring plots to fruition."

The MI5 chief was keen to clarify the differences between his organisation and the communications monitoring agency GCHQ.

Acknowledging the fears surrounding government surveillance Parker clarified his organisation's position saying: "We're not about browsing through the private lives of the citizens of this country. We do not have population-scale monitoring or anything like that."

"We're focused on the people who mean us harm,"

This week also saw David Anderson QC warn against the dangers of increased government surveillance suggesting that it could provoke a backlash and drive people "further towards extremism and terrorism".

Anderson's warning comes alongside the publication of his independent report into the government's current terrorism laws.

He warns that any future laws must not be too far-reaching.

"To speak only of the intended targets does not address the dangers that are inherent in all over-broad laws and discretions: dangers which are present even in the relatively confined area of anti-terrorism law, and which become still more marked as the range of suspect behaviour is extended."

While the head of MI5 clearly agrees that any new law should focus solely on those who pose a danger he did clarify that it would need to be “modern and transparent” going on to say:

"Today we are being stretched by a growing threat from terrorism, and from Syria in particular, combined with the constant challenge of technological change."

“The way we work these days has changed as technology has advanced. Our success depends on us and our partner agencies having sufficient up-to-date capabilities, used within a clear framework of law against those who threaten this country.”

In an attempt to find a middle ground Parker put forward the idea of an international agreement between the UK government and these companies which would allow them access in a manner that was safe and would appease the fears of the public.


The Prime Minister David Cameron himself sparked heavy debate over the issue when he suggested that a ban on encrypted services like WhatsApp and Snapchat would not be ruled out.

"In our country, do we want to allow a means of communication between people which even in extremes, with a signed warrant from the Home Secretary personally that we cannot read," Cameron said.

It's believed that a draft bill of the new surveillance act will be put before parliament by the end of Autumn with the hope being that it can be passed before the current bill expires in December 2016.