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'Stronger case' for spying probe

The case is growing stronger for a further review of the work of Britain's spies, Nick Clegg has indicated following the latest revelations from US whistleblower Edward Snowden.

The Deputy Prime Minister said he had an "open mind" about whether there should be a new inquiry following the series of disclosures about the activities of the intelligence agencies.

"My view is with each passing day there is a stronger and stronger case ... to look at this in the round," Mr Clegg said.

He said the flow of information from the Snowden files was "chipping away" at public support for the intelligence and security services, which could be "dangerous".

British intelligence officials reportedly approved plans allowing the phone, internet and email records of ordinary UK citizens to be analysed and stored by the US National Security Agency (NSA) - despite an agreement supposed to prevent the allies spying on each other.

Documents from Mr Snowden suggest that a deal was reached in 2007 that allowed the agency to hold information they had previously not been allowed to, according to an investigation by the Guardian and Channel 4 News.

It had been believed that citizens of states in the Five Eyes partnership - the UK, US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand - were protected from surveillance from those within it but changes six years ago allow the NSA to analyse and retain any British citizen's mobile phone and fax numbers, email and IP addresses swept up by its dragnet, according to the investigation.

Asked about the reports on his LBC 97.3 phone-in show Mr Clegg said: "The technologies which are now used by our security agencies are far, far more powerful and are able to store and analyse data on a scale we have never known before.

"The ability now to Hoover up, analyse, discard, process information is now on a scale which was unimaginable even a few years ago.

"So it is right to ask questions about the proportionality of modern intelligence-gathering and use of data and, crucially, the accountability."

He added: "Unless there is proper accountability, it is not legitimate in the eyes of the public. This is where, frankly, we can and should reflect on what more we can do."

The current system of accountability, with retired judges able to "dip in" to the agencies' work to check it is within the rules,and the parliamentary scrutiny done by the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) was "quite opaque", Mr Clegg admitted.

"I do think there is a legitimate question to ask in this modern age. They are having this debate in Washington as well, which is how do you make sure that you have proper accountability, proper proportionality, of the use of these powerful technologies so that we can allow the agencies to get on with their important work but to do it in a way in which ... the public generally have greater confidence in.

"Each passing day, with all of these revelations, you chip away at the bedrock of public support for the agencies and that is a dangerous thing."

Pressed on the reports of NSA officials spying on Britons, Mr Clegg said US p resident Barack Obama has commissioned his own review.

Asked whether a public inquiry was needed in the UK, he said: "You can have different kinds of inquiries and reviews.

"There are already reviews under way by the ISC and others but I have an open mind about how you try and capture all these different issues to make sure that we keep up with this revolution in the power of these information technologies which are now available to our intelligence agencies and, of course, are also available to people who want to do us harm."

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