Publication of Investigatory Powers Commissioner’s Annual Report

Published on 05 March 2020

The Investigatory Powers Commissioner’s Office (IPCO) has published its Annual Report on the oversight of the use of covert powers by public authorities.

The Report, covering the year 2018, offers a complete look into IPCO’s first full year in operation. The findings provide an overview on the frequency and type of powers used by authorised bodies, which include UK intelligence agencies, police forces and local councils.

Sir Brian Leveson, the Investigatory Powers Commissioner, said:

“This report is the first significant snapshot of how investigatory powers are used in the UK under the new legislation.

“These powers assist organisations to prevent and detect crime and in the protection of national security, and ultimately protect the public from harm.

“Overall, investigatory powers are used responsibly within the UK. However, our investigations have highlighted key areas where our oversight needs to keep pace with those we oversee, including how to approach the impact of new and evolving technology.”

Some of the key points in the 2018 report are:

  • 2018 saw the introduction of the ‘double lock’ review by a Judicial Commissioner of approval by a Secretary of State for the use of the most intrusive investigatory powers. This additional safeguard has been introduced without hindering the work of the intelligence agencies or law enforcement;
  • By the end of 2018, all applications submitted by UK intelligence agencies to use intrusive investigatory powers were subject to the double lock;
  • 2018 saw a decrease in the number of reported serious errors, as compared with previous years;
  • Advances in technology have assisted the development of new techniques, which themselves can result in a reduction in inappropriate collateral intrusion (the unintentional gathering of intelligence material);
  • Intelligence agencies are implementing good human rights safeguards when working with overseas partners, including providing training to local services to ensure any capabilities provided by an agency are not abused;
  • Overall, organisations showed good practice in safeguarding legally privileged material;
  • Law enforcement agencies’ use of undercover agents, or “Covert Human Intelligence Sources”, has gradually declined in the last decade, largely due to the use of other covert tactics to gather necessary information; and
  • Law enforcement agencies’ use of directed surveillance (the covert surveillance of a specific individual using non-intrusive means), has increased, highlighting the vital role surveillance plays in the prevention and investigation of crime.

This year, the report has been divided into chapters by organisation, rather than by investigatory powers, to give a clearer idea of how these powers are used sector-to-sector.

A Written Ministerial Statement on IPCO’s Annual Report is available here.


Useful definitions:

• Judicial Commissioner:
A Judicial Commissioner is a serving or retired senior judge who is responsible for reviewing applications for the use of intrusive investigatory powers.

• Intrusive Surveillance:
This is surveillance which is carried out, for example, using eavesdropping devices or on a residential premises or in a private vehicle. It may involve the presence of a listening device, in a way to ensure that the individual being observed is unaware that surveillance may be taking place.

• Directed Surveillance:
This is surveillance that is covert but not carried out in residence or private vehicle: this could include the covert monitoring of a person/people of interest’s movements, conversations and other activities.

• Covert Human Intelligence Source:
A Covert Human Intelligence Source (CHIS) is an individual who supports law enforcement agencies by providing intelligence covertly on a person of interest with whom they have a personal or other relationship. A CHIS under the age of 18 is referred to as a Juvenile CHIS.

• Investigatory Powers Act 2016:
The Investigatory Powers Act revised the framework outlining how investigatory powers can be used, by who they can be used and how they are overseen.

• Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA)/Regulation of Investigatory Powers (Scotland) Act 2000 (RIPSA):
RIPA/RIPSA are the laws governing the use of covert techniques by public authorities, including communications interception and the use of a Covert Human Intelligence Source.

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