British spy chiefs to come under surveillance

MI6: The former face of Britain's security services
MI6: The former face of Britain's security services
Adam Bienkov By

Britain's three most senior spy chiefs will today appear for the first time in public together, as they face MPs in a highly anticipated televised exchange.

Members of the intelligence and security committee will quiz the heads of GCHQ, MI5 and MI6 on subjects including cyber terrorism, surveillance and international espionage.

A small number of print journalists will be allowed into the committee, while the live feed will be broadcast on a delay to prevent state secrets from being inadvertently released.

The meeting follows a period of unprecedented controversy for Britain's security services, after the scale of surveillance by GCHQ and the NSA was revealed by the whistleblower Edward Snowden.

This week MPs from both coalition parties spoke out against the increased state surveillance of the internet at an event in London on Monday.

Former Tory leadership contender David Davis said the British security services now had more information on citizens "than under the Stasi".

He said the government had allowed the security services too much freedom and compared their recent destruction of Guardian hard drives to the "burning of books" by the Nazis.

Meanwhile Liberal Democrat MP Julian Huppert said he had been vilified by sections of the press after speaking out about the issue.

Last week, the prime minister dismissed Davis and Huppert's fears as "airy fairy" and made a veiled threat to the Guardian to show more "social responsibility," over their stories.

The Guardian's editor Alan Rusbridger admitted this week to regrets over not seeking government approval for a story about GCHQ bugging world leaders during the G20 summit in 2007.

However, he said continued government attempts to try and prevent their coverage were "chilling" and attacked other news organisations for failing to defend the paper.

The opening up of the intelligence and security committee comes decades after a similar committee was first opened up to the public in the US.

The intelligence and security committee is the only parliamentary committee, whose members are nominated directly by the prime minister, with Conservative MP Malcolm Rifkind the current chair.

Some MPs are now calling on this to change. Tory MP Rory Stewart believes the current system is preventing proper scrutiny of the security services.

"You are never going to have a government backbencher chairing a committee that is going to criticise the government properly," he said, adding that an opposition member should chair the committee in future.

The meeting will begin at around 2pm.

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