Former special-forces soldier and Liberal Democrat peer Paddy Ashdown last night called for a “proper inquiry” into the level of state-sponsored spying exposed by The Guardian.
Ashdown said individuals or groups should only be monitored by the security services if they represent a risk to the country.
Before moving into politics, Ashdown worked as an intelligence officer. In an interview with the Guardian he said he remembered spies steaming open letters with boiling kettles in the 1960s.
Ashdown said the state should only intercept or monitor communications “in cases where there is good evidence to believe the nation's security is being threatened, or arguably, when a really serious crime has been committed".
The former leader of the Liberal Democrats said the entire nation should not be targeted by this blanket surveillance and any proposed bugging should be authorised by a judge or a cabinet minister.
He said: ”We need a proper inquiry to decide what liberties and privacies ought to be accorded in the new interconnected world, and what powers of intrusion ought to be given to the state. The old laws that applied in the age of the steaming kettle will no longer do. The old protections are no longer good enough."
Ashdown praised the Guardian over its reporting of the Snowden files as it “had raised this important issue to the point where sensible people understand this inquiry is now necessary.
"People today seem more casual about their privacy than they used to be. They don't seem to mind when their privacy is breached when they use Google, Facebook and other social media."
Ashdown said he was extremely concerned over the “erosion of our liberties”.