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Intelligence and Security Act (ISA) section 5


What are they?
A warrant under section 5 of the Intelligence and Security Act (ISA) gives authority for the Security Service, SIS or GCHQ to enter on to or interfere with property, or to interfere with wireless telegraphy where this is necessary to do so to carry out their statutory functions. Section 5 warrants are often referred to as property warrants.

Basis in law
Under section 5 of ISA a Secretary of State may issue warrants authorising the Security Service, SIS or GCHQ to enter on to, or interfere with, property, or to interfere with wireless telegraphy for the proper discharge of one of their functions.

Before granting each warrant the Secretary of State must be satisfied of the necessity and proportionality of the interference being authorised. He or she must also be satisfied that the agencies act so as not to intrude on privacy any further than is justified by the necessity to achieve what is authorised.

How section 5 warrants are authorised
These warrants are issued by a Secretary of State. A warrant is valid for six months and ceases to have effect at the end of six months. If at any time before the authorisation would cease to have effect the Secretary of State considers it necessary to renew it, he or she may renew it for a period of six months beginning with the day on which it would otherwise cease to have effect.

Urgent oral authorisation may be given by the Secretary of State but authorisations issued in this way are valid for a period of five days only, unless it is renewed. Written applications must then be made retrospectively.

How they are used in Practice
A section 5 warrant may be used for remote interference with a computer in order to obtain information from that computer in the interest of national security.  It could also be used to authorise entry onto or interference with a domestic residence for the purpose of concealing a listening device within it. In such cases, a section 5 warrant would be used in conjunction with an intrusive surveillance warrant to authorise the listening device.

Section 5 Authorisations can approve the use of highly intrusive techniques, although some techniques authorised under section 5 may not intrude into privacy. The Commissioner requires that the agencies give separate consideration in the accompanying documentation to limiting any unnecessary intrusion into privacy and specifically the privacy of any family members or friends.  They must make a strong case to explain why the information cannot be obtained through less intrusive means and that the privacy being invaded is outweighed by the necessity of the information to be obtained.

Last updated: 23 Jan 16