Bulk powers

Our oversight of bulk powers has evolved to reflect the European Court of Human Rights’ judgment in the Big Brother Watch and others v UK case.

  • 2018: Inspections were overseen by Sir John Goldring and Lord Bonomy, a Chief Inspector and their team. They conducted inspections for the relevant covert powers twice a year at each agency. Prior to an inspection, the agency was required to provide a list of all the relevant authorisations and casework, including internal approval documents with sufficient detail for the inspection team to select additional material for further scrutiny.
  • 2019: We performed our first full inspection of equipment interference powers under the Investigatory Powers Act at the Government Communications Headquarters. This included retrospective oversight of internal processes to approve operations conducted under bulk equipment interference warrants. To do this, we:
    • selected cases in advance for scrutiny, discussing particular cases of interest with GCHQ’s teams at the inspection;
    • gained direct access to IT systems used to request and approve these activities to select further cases for examination; and
    • conducted our selection to ensure that the cases we examined were from a variety of business areas.
  • 2020: From 2020, we decided that our inspections would include a detailed examination of the search criteria used by the agencies. This would supplement the oversight we have in place in relation to bulk personal datasets, bulk communications data, use of bulk warrants for interception and equipment interference, which are all routinely inspected across the intelligence agencies.

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