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The Intelligence Services Act

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The ISA put the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) and the Government Communications Head Quarters (GCHQ) on a statutory footing. It provides the basis in law for issuing warrants and authorisations for SIS, GCHQ and MI5 to carry out their statutory functions and for keeping them under review. The act requires the agencies to be politically neutral.

Section 1 Section 1 provides the basis in law for a Secret Intelligence Service and the Act sets out its statutory functions:
To obtain and provide information relating to the actions or intentions of persons outside the British Islands; and to perform other tasks relating to the actions or intentions of such persons.

It states that these functions can be exercised only:
  • in the interests of national security, with particular reference to the defence and foreign policies of Her Majesty’s Government in the United Kingdom; or
  • in the interests of the economic well-being of the United Kingdom; or
  • in support of the prevention or detection of serious crime.
     
Section 2  Under Section 2 the Act makes provision for a Chief of SIS who has a duty to ensure:
  • that there are arrangements for securing that no information is obtained by the Intelligence Service SIS except so far as necessary for the proper discharge of its functions and that no information is disclosed by it except so far as necessary:
    1. for that purpose;
    2. in the interests of national security;
    3. for the purpose of the prevention or detection of serious crime; or
    4. or the purpose of any criminal proceedings.

The Chief of SIS is charged with making an annual report on the work of the Service to the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State and may at any time report to either of them on any matter relating to its work.

Section 3  Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ)

Section 3 provides the basis in law for GCHQ and sets out its statutory functions:

  • to monitor or interfere with electromagnetic, acoustic and other emissions and any equipment producing such emissions and to obtain and provide information derived from or related to such emissions or equipment and from encrypted material; and
  • to provide advice and assistance about—
    1. languages, including terminology used for technical matters, and
    2. cryptography and other matters relating to the protection of information and other material
      to the armed forces of the Crown, to Her Majesty’s Government in the United Kingdom or to a Northern Ireland Department or to any other organisation which is determined for the purposes of this section in such manner as may be specified by the Prime Minister.

It states that these functions should be exercised only:

  • in the interests of national security, with particular reference to the defence and foreign policies of Her Majesty’s Government in the United Kingdom; or
  • in the interests of the economic well-being of the United Kingdom in relation to the actions or intentions of persons outside the British Islands; or
  • in support of the prevention or detection of serious crime.
Section 4  Under Section 4 the Act also makes provision for a Director GCHQ charged with ensuring:
  • that there are arrangements for securing that no information is obtained by GCHQ except so far as necessary for the proper discharge of its functions and that no information is disclosed by it except so far as necessary for that purpose or for the purpose of any criminal proceedings.

The Director must also make an annual report on the work of GCHQ to the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State and may at any time report to either of them on any matter relating to its work.

Section 5  Under section 5 the Act makes provision for issuing property warrants by a Secretary of State to allow SIS, GCHQ and MI5 to carry out their statutory functions.  As part of this it requires the case to be made that the information to be obtained by the activity authorised cannot be obtained by less intrusive means.
Section 6  Section 6 sets out the procedures for issuing warrants under the act including the process for authorisation.
Section 7  Section 7 makes provision for activity outside the United Kingdom


Last updated: 11 Sep 14