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Thursday, November 06, 2014 

Make it easy for us, Cheltenham.

At this point, it would be a lot easier for all concerned if GCHQ (and MI5 and SIS for that matter) just let everyone know who the very few people they aren't bugging are.  Is it safe to assume the royal family aren't having their phone calls intercepted, for instance, or at least aren't now, considering the still uncertain provenance of the "Squidgy" and Camilla tapes?  How about MPs?  Is the Wilson doctrine still in force, or is that another relic no longer felt necessary in this brave new world that has such people in it?  Considering the doctrine was established in the main to protect communications between MPs and their constituents, conversations that would not, as phone calls between lawyers and their clients are, be felt to be subject to legal professional privilege, is there any reason to believe the successive prime ministers who have insisted the doctrine still has force?

Even if it does still apply, as was outlined by David Davis in parliament, the ban is only on the content of communications, not on the metadata, the time of the call and so on.  Evidently the same must apply to intercepted communications between lawyers and their clients; even if a government lawyer decides a conversation cannot be stored and must be destroyed as keeping it can't be justified under the usual national security, economic well-being or prevention/detection of serious crime exemptions, the metadata will still exist and be kept.

Considering the Snowden revelations, it really shouldn't be surprising the intelligence agencies also view privileged communications as fair game, so long of course as they can point to one of the above reasons for doing so.  It does though, precisely because the legal privilege attached to conversations between lawyers and their clients should be sacrosanct.  If there was any suggestion of collusion, for instance, between a lawyer and a "terrorist suspect", we almost certainly would have known about it down to how the Met leaks anything remotely prejudicial should their charges fail to stick.  No, this seems to have been done not just in case it provided additional information that could be useful to the government against those facing deportation on national security grounds, or to help resist legal claims by those caught up in the rendition scandal, but as with so much else of GCHQ's work, because it could.

We have a good story to tell, GCHQ's new director Robert Hannigan wrote at the beginning of the week.  And so, as seems inevitable, will the next whistleblower.

Update: I somehow managed to confuse provenance with providence.  I am, as ever, an idiot.

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