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Intelligence Services Commissioner and Chief Surveillance Commissioner (Annual Reports)

Volume 597: debated on Thursday 25 June 2015

I have today laid before both Houses copies of the latest annual reports from the Intelligence Services Commissioner and the Chief Surveillance Commissioner.

The Intelligence Services Commissioner, the right hon. Sir Mark Waller, was appointed by me to keep under review the exercise by the Secretaries of State of their powers to issue warrants and authorisations to enable the intelligence services to carry out their vital functions. The Commissioner also uses his position to check the lawful use of the powers and duties imposed on the intelligence services and the Ministry of Defence by the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 and the Intelligence Services Act 1994.

The Chief Surveillance Commissioner, the right hon. Sir Christopher Rose, was appointed by me to keep under review public authority use of covert surveillance, covert human intelligence sources (CHIS) and property interference powers. 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.

Both reports provide a comprehensive summary of the conscientious inspection, authorisation and oversight regimes that have been undertaken.

The Intelligence Services Commissioner makes it clear that those involved in the authorisation of investigatory powers that he oversees take compliance very seriously. It is reassuring that in all cases inspected by the Commissioner there has been proper consideration of the necessity and proportionality of the proposed action, including careful consideration of the intrusion into the target’s and other people’s privacy.

I am also grateful for the Commissioner for identifying a number of administrative errors and making recommendations on how these can be avoided in future. While it is reassuring that these errors were not deliberative or significant, we cannot be complacent. Sir Mark also makes some helpful recommendations in relation to amending the legislation which we will consider as part of the future legislation relating to investigatory powers.

Sir Mark’s annual report considers the intelligence’s use of bulk personal data for the first time as a result of my direction on 12 March 2015. I welcome his finding that the safeguards over the use of, and access to, bulk personal data are satisfactory and that the data is properly used for the statutory purposes for which it was collected.

The Office of Surveillance Commissioners, under Sir Christopher, continues to carry out a thorough and detailed inspection of all public authorities’ use of the surveillance powers, looking at both operational usage and management structures. The commission also scrutinises a high proportion of surveillance deployments including those which the legislation requires to be individually notified to the commission and those which require the prior approval of the Commissioners. The report reflects that there continue to be a small number of errors in public authorities’ practices in this area, though these are not indicative of any systematic abuse or failing. It shows that public authorities are taking their responsibilities seriously and applying good standards of management and control over their covert surveillance activities. The report highlights, in particular, real improvements in the management of undercover police officers.

I want to thank both Commissioners for the diligence and rigour with which they undertake their oversight roles and commend these reports to the House.