Who watches the watchers?

4th June 2018

News, Student news, Alumni news

Are there enough checks and balances on our intelligence agencies? The Hon. Sir Nicholas Blake tells Wadham Human Rights Forum about the creation and work of the Investigatory Powers Commissioner’s Office.

  • Sir Nicholas Blake

    Sir Nicholas Blake

  • Sir Nicholas Blake with the Warden, Ken Macdonald QC

    Sir Nicholas Blake with the Warden, Ken Macdonald QC

Sir Nicholas, a former High Court Judge was appointed as a Judicial Commissioner at the Investigatory Powers Commissioner’s Office (IPCO) following the passing of the Investigatory Powers Act 2016.

His role is to provide independent oversight of the use of investigatory powers by intelligence agencies, police forces and other public authorities.

At the Wadham Human Rights Forum event in May, Sir Nicholas told an audience of students and academics how the supervision of the intelligence agencies had rested with the Executive for many years. A combination of factors including the increase in international terrorism and concerns over police under-cover work led to demands for further legislation on the regulation of the intelligence agencies. A report by the then Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Information, David Anderson QC highlighted the need for more to be done.

This resulted in the 2016 Act and the appointment of The Investigatory Powers Commissioner, Lord Justice Fulford, and 12 Judicial Commissioners who are supported work by a body of civil servants and a specialist Technology Advisory Panel. They are responsible for overseeing the use of investigatory powers by public authorities which include law enforcement, the intelligence agencies, prisons, local authorities and other government agencies (e.g. regulators) – more than 600 public authorities and institutions have investigatory powers.

Intrusive powers such as interception, equipment interference and the use of surveillance in sensitive environments is subject to the prior approval of a Judicial Commissioner. The Commissioners’ role is to take over the inspection and audit functions regarding the prior approval relating to intrusive surveillance, property interference and undercover officers by law enforcement, as well as interception, equipment interference, bulk personal datasets, bulk acquisition of communications data, national security notices, technical capability notices and communications data retention notices.

Sir Nicholas answered questions regarding the ability of the Commissioners to act quickly when the need arose and how they would find a balance between what is proportionate and what is necessary in terms of surveillance.

Hosted by Wadham College Warden, Ken Macdonald QC, Wadham Human Rights Forum is a continuing series of lectures, seminars and discussions hosted by the Wadham College Law Society and open to all.

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