The former head the UK’s security service, MI5, warned the government risked creating a “police state” by exploiting fears over terrorism to erode civil liberties.
Dame Stella Rimington said in an interview with the Spanish newspaper La Vanguardia that interfering with people’s privacy played straight into the hands of terrorists.
“It would be better that the government recognize that there are risks, rather than frightening people in order to be able to pass laws which restrict civil liberties,” she said.
“[That is] precisely one of the objects of terrorism: that we live in fear and under a police state,” she said.
Rimington, 73, became the first woman director-general of MI5 in 1992 and was head of the security agency until 1996.
Last year, she called attempts to extend the period of detention without charge for terrorism suspects to 42 days excessive, shortly before the plan was rejected by parliament.
She has also attacked the government’s controversial plans to introduce ID cards, saying they would not make the public any safer.
A Home Office spokesman said in response to her latest warning: “The government has been clear that, where surveillance or data collection will impact on privacy, they should only be used where it is necessary and proportionate.”
Striking a balance between privacy, protection and sharing of personal data was key, he said.
In the interview, Rimington also criticized the approach of the US to fighting terrorism.
“The US has gone too far with Guantanamo and the tortures,” she said. “MI5 does not do that. Furthermore it has achieved the opposite effect: there are more and more suicide terrorists finding a greater justification.”
Rimington said the British secret services were “no angels,” but insisted they did not kill people.
Her remarks came a day after the publication of a study by the International Commission of Jurists, which said that many states had fallen “into a trap set by terrorists” by introducing measures which undermined the values they sought to protect.
The report condemned the use of “notorious” counterterrorism tactics such as torture, disappearances, arbitrary and secret detention.