Intelligence agencies

Regular contact

We meet members of each agency on a monthly, and at times weekly, basis through frequent inspections, briefings and audits.

Continual dialogue with the agencies is a key part of our oversight due to the constantly developing nature of their work. We often receive briefings on future planning, such as IT improvement programmes, during inspections. This gives us valuable insight into the way each organisation is projecting compliance considerations for the coming years.

We have sought to formalise this process by introducing regular briefing days for our Judicial Commissioners and Inspectors. We respond to these briefings by identifying areas for closer scrutiny at inspection.


We encourage agencies to demonstrate their methodology and rationale for the work they undertake to our Inspectors, who are then able to investigate in detail and understand the agencies’ approach to internal oversight. This model has broadened the scope of our inspections to cover matters of policy and practice.

Use of the powers

In some instances, we conduct inspections in which several powers are considered together: for example, inspecting property interference and surveillance jointly provides a valuable opportunity to scrutinise how different covert powers are used on operations. This has enabled us to consider whether the relevant powers are used rationally and in a way that is proportionate to validate operational requirements.

Joint inspections

On occasion, for example with the Consolidated Guidance (now The Principles), we have inspected the three intelligence agencies at the same time. This allows us to better understand how the agencies work together to minimise risk and has resulted in a high level of confidence in their collaboration. This approach has also enabled IPCO to identify and resolve previously undetected issues.


When required, we conduct specific investigations, examining a particular issue of concern in great detail. For example, we conducted enhanced compliance inspections at MI5 and introduced cross-cutting safeguard inspections which have enabled us to examine the implementation of key policies and practices across the range of powers. We continue to explore ways of working with the UK intelligence community to maximise our oversight without unduly impeding operations.

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