Accountability of the security services

The constitution should enshrine the democratic accountability of the security services, authorising intelligence agencies to undertake surveillance for counter-terrorism purposes, and requiring the relevant government ministers to present reports of their activities to parliament.

John Z Apr 5, 2015

What if an MP(s) fails a security clearance, should this proposal then limit the reports just to the committee(s) overlooking security issues? 

James Doran Apr 7, 2015

Why would MPs be subject to clearance by the security services?

Hugh Ryan Apr 7, 2015

Because they may have access to sensitive information - for example, it is difficult to see how proper parliamentary oversight of intelligence activities can be granted without access to such.

Additionally, MPs, being close to the pinnacle of the government system, are fair game for foreign intelligence services.

This suggestion is, I suggest, too low level to belong in a constitution.

John Z Apr 7, 2015

Would you want a briefing by MI5 or MI6 to be given to just any MP?

John Z Apr 7, 2015

And as a follow-up to my prior comment, would you have such briefings by MI5 and MI6 to Parliament also be broadcast on BBC Parliament?  I hope your answer is no.

James Doran Apr 11, 2015

My answer is yes and yes. The security services ahold be accountable to our elected representatives. Not the other way around.

John Z Apr 11, 2015

So you would have MI5 and MI6 briefings on live TV so the UK's enemies can learn the UK's security measures.  Interesting.  And it is your opinion that this policy will ensure "peace in our time"?  Or perhaps the end of the UK.

James Doran Apr 12, 2015

Why would the security services disclose details about individual operations? It's more likely these would be disclosed to the relevant minister - the Defence Secretary and the Home Secretary. Strategy would be the topic discussed with parliamentary committees, surely? This is how it is today. 

John Z Apr 12, 2015

That is the question I have for you, why would it be disclosed on live TV?  You stated above that you would want this to be broadcast on TV  so the world (and UK's enemies) can see this.

James Doran Apr 13, 2015

I think citizens need to know the strategy of the security services. But the meetings undertaken by ministers accountable to parliament are not televised, and I doubt this will change. So I'm not sure what the concern is since senior security officials give testimony to parliamentary committees.

Hugh Ryan Apr 13, 2015

I think that citizens need to know that the security services exist. I think they need to know what they are tasked to do in organisational terms. But they most emphatically do NOT need to know strategies and tactics, since this essentially puts them into the public domain, thus negating their effectiveness.

King Richard Third Apr 11, 2015

My honourable colleague, while I do not doubt your good intention, I fear that you fail to see the potentially catastrophic consequences of your proposal.  To create complete transparency of the Kingdom's intelligence agencies would cause our enemies to have unfettered access to our strategic weaknesses. A civilisation that takes a purely idealistic approach to the modern world will leave its people totally vulnerable to outside threats.  Viz., ISIS, Al Qaeda, Hamas, Hezbollah, FARC, and the Taliban.  

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Jake Wellman Apr 7, 2015

Thanks for continuing the debate John from Jersey, JamesDoran, and HTR!

As we are now in the refining phase, please feel free to suggest ways that this idea can be improved and refined as a contribution to the UK Constitution. Every user can confirm their votes on all ideas in this stage with an up or down vote.

-JWellman, moderator

John Z Apr 8, 2015

The only thought I have is that security services would be mandated to give periodic briefings to the special committee dealing with security issues.  Ideally, MP's in this committee would have passed a strict security clearance PLUS any leaks by an MP would be treason.

Bob Stammers Apr 11, 2015

The presumption should be that any MP is eligible to receive security briefings provide oversight. Clearly there will be exceptions to that rule and a mechanism needs to be in place to cater for rebuttals and disqualifications where appropriate.

The presumption should that in principle briefings are accessible to the public with appropriate safeguards. Over-reliance on "security by secrecy" is a recipe for disaster. Operational matters would not be covered as is the situation, I believe, with the police.

Jake Wellman Apr 17, 2015

This could be enshrined in an overall accountability provision, something like: "Ministers will keep Parliament informed on the activities of government by appearing for questioning on a regular basis in the House of Commons and providing evidence to Parliamentary committee enquiries."