Rapid advances in technology are allowing terrorists to operate “out of the reach” of British spies, the head of MI5, Andrew Parker has claimed.
Speaking to the the BBC’s Today programme, Parker called on social media and technology companies to cooperate with investigations into “severe” terrorism threats. In the first ever live interview from a serving intelligence chief, Parker said technological innovation was making it harder to track terror suspects and that encryption and communication tools were especially worrisome.
His call to international tech companies comes in a year when MI5 has intercepted six terror attempts, the highest number in any year Parker can remember.
According to Parker MI5 is concerned about people “using secure apps and internet communication to try and broadcast their message”. Parker claimed that new technology was allowing people to “incite and direct terrorism amongst people who live here who are prepared to listen to their message”.
“If it’s something that concerns terrorism or concerns child sex exploitation or some other appalling area of crime, then why would the company not come forward?” he asked. An international agreement, whereby companies have an understanding with security agencies such as MI5, Parker argued, could be used to protect society “from people who mean them harm”.
The interview comes as parliament draws up the controversial Communications Data Bill that is expected to expand and clarify the UK’s data surveillance powers. Parker said he welcomed updates to legislation drafted in 2002, but said MI5 would play no part in deciding what the new legislation should be.
“It’s a fundamental point about what MI5 is. It’s for us to follow what’s set by parliament, and that’s what we do,” he said.
“We’re focused on the people who mean us harm. We’re not about browsing through the lives of the citizens of this country. We do not have population-scale monitoring,” Parker said. But MI5 does need the power to “monitor the communications of terrorists, spies and others.”
At the end of the interview Parker claimed those who work for MI5 were more ordinary than people might imagine. He also described recent James Bond films as “so distant from reality that we can all enjoy the fiction”.
Updated 17/09/15, 14:40: This article has been updated as the original photo showed the MI6 building, not MI5.