Dame Stella Rimington, the former head of MI5, the U.K.'s counter-intelligence and security agency, has accused the British government of exploiting people’s fear of terrorism to restrict civil rights.

Ministers risked handing a victory to terrorists by making people “live in fear and under a police state," said the former spy, who retired as Director General of the Security Service in 1996.

Rimington, 73, has been a harsh critic of the government’s policies, including attempts to extend pre-charge detention for terror suspects to 42 days and its controversial ID cards plan.

“Since I have retired I feel more at liberty to be against certain decisions of the government, especially the attempt to pass laws which interfere with people’s privacy,” Rimington said, in an interview with the Spanish newspaper La Vanguardia.

“It would be better that the government recognized that there are risks, rather than frightening people in order to be able to pass laws which restrict civil liberties, which is precisely one of the objects of terrorism: that we live in fear and under a police state.”

She said that America was even more to blame and had acted as a recruiting sergeant for extremists, through harsh anti-terror measures that have been accused of breaching human rights law.

“The U.S. has gone too far with Guantanamo and the tortures. MI5 does not do that," she said. “Furthermore, it has achieved the opposite effect: there are more and more suicide terrorists finding a greater justification.”

A report by a panel of leading judges and lawyers, published yesterday, appeared to confirm Rimington's view, warning that measures to tackle terrorism have undermined international human rights laws.

The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) found that “many states have fallen into a trap set by terrorists," by introducing anti-terrorism measures which undermined the very values they sought to protect. Many such measures were imposed on a temporary basis but ended up becoming permanent features of law and practice.

Click here to read more on this story from the Times of London.