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Chief Surveillance Commissioner (Annual Report)

Volume 585: debated on Thursday 4 September 2014

I have today laid before both Houses copies of the latest annual report from the Chief Surveillance Commissioner appointed by me to keep under review public authority use of covert surveillance, covert human intelligence sources and property interference. The commissioner provides statutory oversight to ensure that public authorities use correctly and lawfully the relevant provisions of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, the Regulation of Investigatory Powers (Scotland) Act 2000 and the Police Act 1997.

The use of covert techniques, including the deployment of undercover officers, is an important weapon in the fight against terrorism and other serious and organised crime including the trafficking of drugs and firearms and child abuse. In using the powers available under the legislation, law enforcement officers play a crucial role in keeping all of us safe. The use of these techniques has been instrumental in securing convictions for very serious offences.

However, it is appropriate that such techniques are properly regulated to ensure they are applied lawfully. The Office of Surveillance Commissioners play a key role in providing independent scrutiny in this area. The commissioners are all retired senior members of the judiciary and bring their experience to bear in this most sensitive of areas. I want to thank Sir Christopher and his colleagues for maintaining the independent, external checks on public authority use of covert techniques.

The report from the Chief Surveillance Commissioner shows that in the vast majority of cases covert techniques are being used effectively, when it is necessary and proportionate to do so. The report notes a small number of errors reported to the commissioner. The number represents a tiny proportion of the total number of authorisations, and a decrease on the previous year. The chief commissioner found nothing to suggest wilful misconduct.