The head of MI5 has warned that terrorist plotting against Britain is at its most intense for three decades and still growing as he backed new powers to monitor communications.
Andrew Parker said new technologies were posing ever-greater challenges to his agency as he argued that social media giants such as Facebook and Twitter had a “responsibility” to share information.
However, he stressed that MI5 was not interested in “browsing through the private lives” of the general public and should work within a “transparent” legal framework.
Giving the first live broadcast interview by any security service chief on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Parker played down fears about extremists entering Europe among the stream of refugees from Syria.
He said the police and security services had intervened to foil six terrorist plots in the UK over the past 12 months and the threat was growing.
'Question of ethical responsibility of tech companies for data they hold' - Andrew Parker, M15, on counter-terrorism: http://t.co/gA3iFePz5G— BBC Radio 4 Today (@BBCr4today) September 17, 2015
“That is the highest number I can recall in my 32-year career, certainly the highest number since 9/11,” he said. “It represents a threat which is continuing to grow, largely because of the situation in Syria and how that affects our security.”
Parker said the “shape” of the threat was changing dramatically.
“They are using secure apps and internet communication to try to broadcast their message and incite and direct terrorism amongst people who live here who are prepared to listen to their message,” he said.
Parker set out the challenges facing the security services as the government prepares for a battle over legislation dubbed the “snooper’s charter”.
The Investigatory Powers Bill would oblige UK internet service providers to keep data on their customers and make the information available to authorities.
Parker said: “Because of that threat we face and the way the terrorists operate and the way we all live our lives today, it is necessary that, if we are to find and stop the people who mean us harm, MI5 and others need to be able to navigate the internet to find terrorist communication.
“We need to be able to use data sets so we can join the dots, to be able to find and stop the terrorists who mean us harm before they are able to bring the plots to fruition. We have been pretty successful at that over recent years, but it is becoming more difficult to do it as technology changes faster and faster.”
He reassured people that MI5 was not interested in their private lives.
“The important thing to say is that we focus on the people who mean us harm. We are not about browsing through the private lives of citizens of this country,” said Parker.
“We do not have population-scale monitoring or anything like that.”
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