History

What happened before the Investigatory Powers Act?

Before the creation of the role of the Investigatory Powers Commissioner, the use of investigatory powers was overseen by several precursor organisations. This oversight had been established by various pieces of legislation over the last 40 years:

1985

The Interception of Communications Act 1985 established the role of the Interception of Communications Commissioner.

1989

The Security Services Act 1989 established the role of the Security Services Commissioner who oversaw the use of investigatory powers by the Security Service.

1994

The Intelligence Services Act 1994 established the role of the Intelligence Services Commissioner and replaced the role of the Security Services Commissioner to cover all three intelligence services.

1997

The Police Act 1997 came into force which established the Office of the Surveillance Commissioners which oversaw the use of property interference by law enforcement.

2000

The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA) and the Regulation of Investigatory Powers (Scotland) Act 2000 (RIPSA) marked a major change in the regulation of covert surveillance and the use of covert human intelligence source (also referred to as CHIS) by public authorities. The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act also further expanded the functions of the Office of the Surveillance

Why was the Investigatory Powers Act introduced?

In 2013, a number of high-profile allegations were made regarding the use of investigatory powers by UK public authorities. These allegations received widespread media attention and raised public concern around the use of investigatory powers. This, in part, prompted a number of reviews into the way these powers were used by public authorities in the UK and how they should be regulated.

In June 2015, the now Lord Anderson of Ipswich (the former Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation) submitted his report, “A Question of Trust”, to the Prime Minister on the effectiveness of the then statutory framework.

He recommended that new legislation should be drafted that ensured:

  • the privacy of communications;
  • the prohibition of interference by public authorities, unless on specified terms; and
  • judicial, regulatory and parliamentary mechanisms for authorisation, audit and oversight of such interferences.

In addition to the report of Lord Anderson, reports by the Intelligence and Security Committee and the Royal United Services Institute informed the development of the then Investigatory Powers Bill.

This led to the enactment of the Investigatory Powers Act 2016 on 29 November 2016 and the creation of the role of Investigatory Powers Commissioner.

What did the Investigatory Powers Act do?

The Investigatory Powers Act 2016 brought together existing powers relating to communications data, the interception of communications and equipment interference, and updated the legislation to reflect technological advances. It also overhauled the way investigatory powers are authorised and overseen.

In addition to creating the role of the Investigatory Powers Commissioner, the Investigatory Powers Act also introduced new safeguards in the use of the most intrusive investigatory powers.

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