Government QC says Wilson doctrine outdated in age of mass interception of data

James Eadie QC

A convention that prevents MPs’ phones and emails being intercepted in incompatible with modern surveillance according to a government lawyer.

James Eadie QC told a tribunal the “Wilson doctrine” was not appropriate for an age of mass interception of communications and added it has no force in law.

The convention came about in 1966 after Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson told the House of Commons that the intelligence services would not tap MPs’ phones.

Since then later governments have made similar assurances and updated the convention to also include email.

Speaking before the Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT) in a case brought by Green Party MPs as well as George Galloway, Mr Eadie said the convention “simply cannot work sensibly” under present intelligence-gathering methods.

He added that guarantees made in the past by ministers were unclear and that the doctrine had no legal power to limit the work of the intelligence services, The Guardian reported.

Ben Jaffey, for Lady Jones and Caroline Lucas, said MPs had been told their communications were protected when this was not really the case, adding: “It’s very hard to see how that state of affairs is in accordance with the law.”

In Scotland, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon wrote to the Prime Minister to ask for reassurances MSPs’ communications had not been intercepted after the Daily Record published an excerpt from an internal GCHQ document, showing that the “Wilson doctrine” did not apply to “the interception of communications of members of the European Parliament or devolved assemblies”.

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