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What the Commissioner does

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Who we inspect

The Commissioner inspects:

He also inspects the warrant issuing departments at:

And meets with the respective Secretary of State who signs the warrants and authorisations at each department.

What we do

During the formal inspections of the areas the Commissioner oversees, he checks that warrants and authorisations have been issued lawfully. He does this over three stages in both the agencies and the warrant issuing departments. Every member of an intelligence service, government department or member of the Armed Forces has a legal duty to disclose or provide to the Commissioner any and all information he needs to carry out his duties. There can be no limitations placed on his access to information.

The Selection Stage

The Commissioner selects a number of warrants/authorisations for which he wants to inspect the actual warrant/authorisation and the underlying paperwork from full lists of warrants/authorisations provided by the agencies. The lists include brief descriptions of what each is about. He selects some warrants/authorisations for inspection on the basis of the information provided to him and he chooses the remainder by random sampling.

As a general rule, most of the warrants/authorisations he chooses for inspection will be different in the agency and the government department which processes their applications. On some occasions, however, they will be the same, allowing him to audit the process from both sides. The Commissioner checks that the lists he receives from the agency applying for a warrant and the government department which processes their applications correspond. This too allows him to audit the process from both sides.

The Pre-Reading Stage

The Commissioner scrutinises in depth, the warrants/authorisations he selected during the Selection Stage. He fully reviews all paperwork justifying their issue and identifies any further information he needs in advance of his formal inspection visit. In particular, he reviews whether the case of necessity and proportionality is properly made and whether any invasion of privacy has been justified.

This involves checking:

1. That the activity falls within one of the statutory duties of the intelligence service

2. That the activity is or was necessary for the purpose of:

3. That the activity is proportionate:

4. As a separate aspect of proportionality the Commissioner reviews if the intelligence to be gained is justified by the privacy being invaded.

5. That the activity has been properly authorised either by a relevant senior official (as set out in statutory instrument 2010 No 521 http://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2010/521/contents/made) or by the Secretary of State.

The Commissioner notes points for discussion and questions to be raised during his inspection visit.

The Inspection Visit

The Commissioner undertakes his formal oversight inspection, raising points identified during the Pre-Reading Stage with the individuals involved. He is briefed on the particular operation and challenges the relevant officers so that he can satisfy himself that all warrants/ authorisations are issued lawfully and the intelligence sought to be gathered is of sufficient importance to necessitate any intrusion, and that the least intrusive means of obtaining that intelligence have been used.

During this visit he may also be briefed on current operational activities, operational priorities and new systems or techniques in place since his last inspection.

Under the Bonnet

The Commissioner follows up his formal inspections with 'under the bonnet' visits to review how the warrants are put into operation. Because some submissions and warrants contain assurances about the means to be used to limit invasion of privacy, it is important to assess how these assurances are put into practice. These visits are designed to go beyond the paperwork and see the ways in which any assurances have been implemented. He questions staff across a range of grades about how they will apply, or have applied, the tests of necessity and proportionality in the planning stages and when carrying out the activities specified in any warrant or authorisation. The Commissioner asks challenging questions of operational staff, to ensure they are fully aware of the conditions and understand why they have been applied.

Internal Compliance Mechanisms

As well as this four stage inspection regime the Commissioner also checks the systems in place within the organisation to assure himself that they have in place robust and rigorous internal checks and assurances. This, is taken into account along with the general culture and ethos of compliance in place.


Last updated: 21 Aug 14