GCHQ head denies "mass surveillance"

GCHQ at Cheltenham Credit: Barry Batchelor/PA Wire

The outgoing head of GCHQ, the Government listening centre at Cheltenham, has issued an impassioned defence of its work, insisting it did not engage in "anything remotely resembling mass surveillance".

Sir Iain Lobban, who retires later this month after six years in charge, used his valedictory address to pay tribute to his staff, some of whom he said had made "the ultimate sacrifice in the line of duty" - although he gave no further details.

After a tumultuous year overshadowed by the disclosures of the former US intelligence operative Edward Snowden, he insisted GCHQ was committed to the protection of the public from "the plotters, the proliferators and the paedophiles" who exploited the "darkest places" of the internet.

While he acknowledged that tracking down perpetrators online meant accessing the internet "at scale", he said that his organisation was committed to delivering security while protecting privacy "to the greatest extent possible".