Leading article: The lesser of two evils

Share

Traditionally, there have been two arguments against using evidence from telephone tapping in British courts. Civil libertarians objected to a violation of a citizen's right not to be spied upon. At the opposite end of the political spectrum, supporters of the security services argued that public scrutiny of the methods used by our intelligence officers would reveal too much of their methods to potential terrorists.

The potency of the civil liberties argument is bound to be diluted at a time when many in the West believe we are engaged in a "war on terror". The argument from the security services has long been seriously weakened by the fact that many other countries allow such evidence without any obvious harm done to their intelligence systems.

Even so, anyone concerned with national security must take seriously the concerns of representatives of the surveillance service, GCHQ, who recently told the Parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee that they did not believe anything proposed passed the test of doing more good than harm. Rather, they argued, making telephone, fax, e-mail and postal intercepts admissible in court would lead to a net reduction in our national ability to deal with crime and terrorism.

Britain was different, they argued, because of its close co-operation with intelligence agencies in other countries and the fact it was bound by EU rules, unlike the US or Australia. Quite how was not made clear. In any case, the moves by the Prime Minister to implement the nine recommendations of the Chilcot review should go a long way to allaying these anxieties.

The argument that phone-tap evidence would create too much paperwork was always bogus, given the very few cases of a threat to national security which come to court. But concerns that clever defence lawyers could go on fishing expeditions – demanding extensive transcripts to trawl through in the hunt for other defence strategies – are addressed by the limits Chilcot places on what the prosecution is obliged to present. The right of intelligence agencies to retain control of the material and veto its use in court is key, too, in not disclosing to potential terrorists what the intelligence services are able, and not able, technically to do.

These changes will have another important impact. They deprive the authoritarians in the Cabinet of one of the key arguments they use to insist that detention without trial should be extended from the present 28 days, on the grounds that the increasing complexity of cases means it takes longer to compile convincing evidence. Allowing intercepts will make that task much easier. If it is an infringement of civil liberties that is, in anyone's book, a far lesser evil than locking people up without charge or trial.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Junior Software Developer - C# .Net

£21500 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: In your role as a Junior Softwa...

Langley James : PHP Developer; Linux, MySQL, MVC, GIT; Blackfriars; £40k

£35000 - £40000 per annum + progression, upskilling: Langley James : PHP Devel...

h2 Recruit Ltd: Business Development - Telecommunications - £50,000 OTE

£25000 per annum + £50,000 OTE: h2 Recruit Ltd: London, Reading , Southend, Al...

Recruitment Genius: Call Centre Agent - £22,000 OTE

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: As a Call Centre Agent you will...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Tony Blair and George Bush were united over Iraq  

America and Britain shaped the world after World War II, and ought to be proud of their work

John Rentoul
Jeremy Hunt, Health Secretary, at the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital in London, in May last year  

Why is Jeremy Hunt telling everyone that he took his children to A&E instead of his local GP?

Charlie Cooper
Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

Putin’s far-right ambition

Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

Escape to Moominland

What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?
Nightclubbing with Richard Young: The story behind his latest book of celebrity photographs

24-Hour party person

Photographer Richard Young has been snapping celebrities at play for 40 years. As his latest book is released, he reveals that it wasn’t all fun and games
Michelle Obama's school dinners: America’s children have a message for the First Lady

A taste for rebellion

US children have started an online protest against Michelle Obama’s drive for healthy school meals by posting photos of their lunches
Colouring books for adults: How the French are going crazy for Crayolas

Colouring books for adults

How the French are going crazy for Crayolas
Jack Thorne's play 'Hope': What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

Playwright Jack Thorne's latest work 'Hope' poses the question to audiences
Ed Harcourt on Romeo Beckham and life as a court composer at Burberry

Call me Ed Mozart

Paloma Faith, Lana del Ray... Romeo Beckham. Ed Harcourt has proved that he can write for them all. But it took a personal crisis to turn him from indie star to writer-for-hire
10 best stocking fillers for foodies

Festive treats: 10 best stocking fillers for foodies

From boozy milk to wasabi, give the food-lover in your life some extra-special, unusual treats to wake up to on Christmas morning
Phil Hughes head injury: He had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

Phil Hughes had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

Prolific opener had world at his feet until Harmison and Flintoff bounced him
'I have an age of attraction that starts as low as four': How do you deal with a paedophile who has never committed a crime?

'I am a paedophile'

Is our approach to sex offenders helping to create more victims?
How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

Serco given Yarl’s Wood immigration contract despite ‘vast failings’
Green Party on the march in Bristol: From a lost deposit to victory

From a lost deposit to victory

Green Party on the march in Bristol
Putting the grot right into Santa's grotto

Winter blunderlands

Putting the grot into grotto
'It just came to us, why not do it naked?' London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital

'It just came to us, why not do it naked?'

London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital