Ciaran Martin refuses to discuss incoming Investigatory Powers Bill.
The cybersecurity chief of GCHQ refused to address questions about how the upcoming Snooper’s Charter will affect how his agency operates.
When questioned by the audience following a wide-ranging keynote speech at the Infosecurity Europe tech show in London, director general of cybersecurity Ciaran Martin declined to comment on the Investigatory Powers Bill that the Conservative government plans to enact.
But he did give some clues as to what he felt about the general effect of intelligence gathering on the capabilities of GCHQ, whose historic mandate on information security put it on the front line of the Government’s attempts to counter the rise in global cybercrime and cyber-espionage.
"Our role only really works because we have an intelligence capability," he said. "If we want to protect the UK from the darkest aspects of cyberspace we have to know how it works."
Martin added that GCHQ does not "have enough people to engage in unlawful mass intrusion" of the sort uncovered by the whistleblower Edward Snowden, and added that staff at the agency are "acutely conscious we are charged with significant powers under the law".
He also dismissed assertions that spies were "talking up a threat" in a bid to keep their agency relevant, claiming the threats he outlined were based in fact.
"It is absolutely not our aim to slowdown or shutdown the march of technology," he said. "And even if it was we wouldn’t be allowed to."
Martin’s comments come after significant controversy over the re-emergence of the Snooper’s Charter.
One firm Eris Industries, which specialises in Blockchain infrastructure, has even temporarily quit the UK amid the furore, claiming that adding more powers to British spies was "completely unnecessary".