Carrying out an inspection

Inspections are completed by our Inspectors to ensure that when investigatory powers are used:

  • compliant authorisations have been given;
  • legal requirements (such as necessity and proportionality) have been met; and
  • standards of good practice are maintained.

When completing an inspection, Inspectors will visit the authority (either in person or using remote access to the authority’s records), review documentation and interview relevant staff members. This could include, for example, interviewing operational and policy teams. Inspectors scrutinise records of the authority’s use of an investigatory power. This includes:

  • the application for its use;
  • the authorisation approving its use;
  • applications to renew the authorisation and extend its use; and
  • documents cancelling the use of the power.

As well as these fundamental documents, Inspectors will review a variety of supporting documents such as risk assessments for covert human intelligence sources or policy logs. They will examine training modules and governance structures. Inspectors may also review samples of material obtained through the use of covert powers.

They will make sure that the retention and deletion of this material is carried out in accordance with the Codes of Practice available on GOV.UK (these codes provide guidance to public authorities on the appropriate use of investigatory powers).

A significant development in how we perform our inspections has been for Judicial Commissioners to join inspections. This has a dual benefit: first, it enhances the Commissioners’ awareness of the context of operations, which is relevant to their consideration of applications; and secondly, it gives the Commissioners an opportunity to directly challenge aspects of policy and methodology at individual authorities.

One size of inspection does not fit all. We are flexible in our approach to inspection planning to ensure the demands we make on public authorities are proportionate but allow us the access we need. We are keen to build on this learning and continue to work with the authorities we oversee to develop our methodology.

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