A former Labour cabinet minister has warned that GCHQ and Britain's other intelligence agencies appear to be undertaking mass surveillance without parliament's consent because the coalition failed to get the so-called "snoopers' charter" passed into law after Liberal Democrat opposition.
Nick Brown, a former chief whip who sat on the parliamentary committee scrutinising the draft communications data bill, said there was an "uncanny" similarity between the GCHQ surveillance programmes exposed by the US whistleblower Edward Snowden and proposals in the first part of the bill.
The communications data bill – dubbed the "snoopers' charter" by critics – would have given GCHQ, MI5 and MI6 much greater powers to gather and save information about people's internet activities but it was shelved in the spring amid Lib Dem fears that it intruded too much into privacy.
Brown, a Labour MP, said that it "looks very much like this is what is happening anyway, with or without parliament's consent" under GCHQ's secret Temporaprogramme, which was revealed by the Guardian in July in reports based on files leaked by Snowden. Tempora allows GCHQ to harvest, store and analyse millions of phone calls, emails and search engine queries by tapping the transatlantic cables that carry internet traffic.