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Reportable Errors

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An important element of the Commissioner's oversight is examining errors that might have occurred, either during the warrant application and authorisation process, or during the subsequent exercise of these powers by the intelligence services.

Under a system introduced by a former Intelligence Services Commissioner the agencies are obliged to report to the Commissioner any error which has resulted in any unauthorised activity where an authorisation was or should have been in place.

Types of Errors

Errors can be divided into different categories:

  1. a) an administrative error where it is clear on the face of a document that a typing error has occurred, the correction is obvious, and a court would amend it under its 'slip rule';
  2. b) a situation where there has been an inadvertent failure to renew a warrant or obtain authorisation in time where, if things had been done properly, the renewal or authorisation would clearly have been granted; or
  3. c) a deliberate decision taken to obtain information without proper authorisation.

Reporting Errors to the Commissioner

Any error in categories (b) or (c) should be reported immediately followed if necessary (if such a report cannot be produced immediately) by a full report explaining:

Agencies should also report errors of the nature of (b) and (c) even if the error is caused by or is that of a third party.

Errors in category (a) should be reported at the formal inspection together with steps taken to correct and avoid re-occurrence.

Further Detail and Commissioner Reporting of the Error

Category (a) Errors

The 'slip rule' allows a court to correct an accidental slip or omission in a judgement at any time if it does not reflect the courts' intention. In this context, errors could be an obvious administrative mistake such as a misspelling, incorrect year or failure to update a template.

These errors will be published in the Commissioner's open report because it is in the public interest to do so and such administrative mistakes do not disclose anything which would not be in the public interest to disclose such as national security.

Category (b) Errors

These are inadvertent errors which will, or may have, involved the invasion of privacy or interference with property when the appropriate authority was not in place.

The gist of these errors will be published in the Commissioner's open report but, because they relate to sensitive operational information and/or techniques, the Commissioner agrees that it is not in the public interest to disclose detail. However, full detail will be reported to the Prime Minister in the confidential annex.

Category (c) Errors

To date no error of this nature has been discovered or reported. If such a deliberate act were to be committed those involved would be subject to disciplinary action and criminal charges.

Were the Commissioner to discover such a deliberate decision he would report it to the Prime Minister immediately and notify the Crown Prosecution Service.


Last updated: 11 Sep 14