Used under Creative Commons | Pic: Esther Vargas

The new director of the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), the UK’s largest intelligence and security organisation, a “new deal” between tech firms and the government while also stating that privacy has never been “an absolute right”.

Writing in the Financial Times, Robert Hannigan said that “GCHQ is happy to be part of a mature debate on privacy in the digital age. But privacy has never been an absolute right and the debate about this should not become a reason for postponing urgent and difficult decisions.”

He states that terrorists, citing ISIS as an example, have learned from the Snowden leaks and that social media platforms are aiding these groups. Mr Hannigan, who takes over the position from Sir Iain Lobban at GCHQ, also complains that tech firms are increasingly installing easy to use encryption into their products which will lead to security risks.

“Techniques for encrypting messages or making them anonymous which were once the preserve of the most sophisticated criminals or nation states now come as standard. These are supplemented by freely available programs and apps adding extra layers of security, many of them proudly advertising that they are ‘Snowden approved’. There is no doubt that young foreign fighters have learnt and benefited from the leaks of the past two years.”

Instead of using his position to usher in a new era of GCHQ transparency in the area of public accountability, Mr Hannigan has instead chose to knuckle down and go on the offensive by taking direct aim at companies such as Yahoo, Google, Apple and Microsoft – many of which were found to be under the direct watch of the NSA/GCHQ PRISM surveillance program.

Eric King, director of Privacy International, that “Before he condemns the efforts of companies to protect the privacy of their users, perhaps he should reflect on why there has been so much criticism of GCHQ in the aftermath of the Snowden revelations. GCHQ’s dirty games – forcing companies to handover their customers’ data under secret orders, then secretly tapping the private fibre optic cables between the same companies’ data centres anyway – have lost GCHQ the trust of the public, and of the companies who services we use”.

Recently, the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA), a main surveillance law in the UK, has been criticised by journalists after it was uncovered that a number of police forces were using the legislation to expose sources of stories.

Jason Murdock |  Image credit: Creative Commons | by