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Surveillance and Interception of Communications

Volume 612: debated on Thursday 7 July 2016

I have today laid before both Houses a copy of the latest annual report from the Chief Surveillance Commissioner and a copy of a report by the Interception of Communications Commissioner on his oversight of directions issued under section 94 of the Telecommunications Act 1984. Both reports provide rigorous and independent oversight and scrutiny of the use of covert investigatory powers.

The Chief Surveillance Commissioner, the right hon. the Lord Judge, was appointed in July 2015 to keep under review public authority use of covert surveillance, covert human intelligence sources and property interference powers. The Chief Surveillance 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. He heads the Office of Surveillance Commissioners (OSC) which supports him in the discharge of these statutory duties.

His annual report provides a detailed account of the way in which the OSC has provided this scrutiny, both through authorisation of deployments where prior approval of a Surveillance Commissioner is required by statute, and through a rigorous and comprehensive programme of inspections. The report also sets out the findings and conclusions that Lord Judge and his team have drawn from this process.

Covert surveillance powers are a critical tool for investigators dealing with terrorist and serious criminal activity, and the work of the OSC is essential to ensuring that there is public confidence in the way that such covert powers are used. I am pleased to note that the report finds the vast majority of public authorities are complying fully and conscientiously with the statutory requirements, and that the OSC are working actively to identify and address any issues that arise, and any cases that fall short of desired standards.

In February 2015 I directed the Interception of Communications Commissioner, the right hon. Sir Stanley Burnton, to oversee the use of directions given under section 94 of the Telecommunications Act 1984. The Commissioner has since carried out a comprehensive review of the use of section 94 directions, the extent of their use and the processes and policies that govern their use. I welcome the Commissioner’s support for the changes that we are seeking to make through the Investigatory Powers Bill which will replace the use of section 94 directions with a more comprehensive statutory regime for the acquisition of communications data in bulk or the issuing of a national security notice. Accompanying this new statutory regime will be codes of practice that will contain far greater detail and clarity around the policies, procedures and safeguards associated with the use of these powers.

I would like to thank both Commissioners, and the staff that work for them, for the continued diligence and rigour with which they undertake their oversight roles and commend these reports to the House.