So in the next 18 months the US intelligence community will have cleaned up its act. Britain, almost alone in the West, has been remarkably complacent about the astonishing way that the NSA has, with GCHQ assistance, used an extremely loose interpretation of the law to go on a fishing expedition through the phone, internet and e-mail records of its own and allied citizens. Even if we accept that it is tolerable for British citizens to have a much poorer standard of privacy than Americans, the economic consequences of our complacency are likely to prove unpalatable at very least.
Distrust is on the rise. E-mail companies are already setting up in countries with strong privacy protection, such as Germany, to take advantage of the loss of credibility of US companies. The internet makes up about 12 per cent of Britain’s economy. If we do not act to make our intelligence-gathering systems as focused and accountable as the Americans have, the shadow of distrust could shift from them to us. That means that fewer IT-based companies will come here, and some will migrate abroad.
British industry and the British economy have benefited hugely from our country’s reputation for trust and integrity. It would be a terrible paradox if our intelligence communities’ well-intentioned efforts to protect our physical security ended up undermining our economic security.
…even if I am sceptical, to say the least, that the NSA will have ‘cleaned up its act’ in any meaningful way whatsoever.