Accountability and Oversight
To maintain their effectiveness the intelligence and security Agencies must be able to operate in secret. However it is also important in a democratic society that there are effective safeguards and means of overseeing their work, with clearly defined political accountability for their activities.
Effective accountability and oversight is provided in three different ways:
- through Ministers, who are accountable to Parliament for the activities of the Agencies;
- through Parliament itself, to provide politically independent oversight of Agency activities; and
- through independent Commissioners, who provide judicial expertise on the Agencies' performance of their statutory duties, and an Investigatory Powers Tribunal, which investigates complaints by individuals about the Agencies' conduct towards them or about interception of their communications.
The oversight mechanisms are founded in three key pieces of legislation:
- the Security Service Act 1989 (amended 1996) [External website], which placed the Service under the authority of the Home Secretary and which set out the functions of the Service and the responsibilities of the Director General;
- the Intelligence Services Act 1994 [External website], which established a framework for Parliament to exercise oversight of expenditure, administration and policy of the three Agencies; and
- the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA) [External website] which established a Commissioner for the Interception of Communications, a Commissioner for the Intelligence Services and a Tribunal to examine complaints and hear proceedings under section 7 of the Human Rights Act 1998. (see Commissioners and Tribunal for more information on these bodies)
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