Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament
Work of the committee
The committee's formal responsibilities are to examine the expenditure, administration and policies of the security and intelligence agencies as laid down in statute; the Secret Intelligence Service, the Security Service and Government Communications Headquarters. It has however extended its oversight responsibilities to include the Defence Intelligence Staff and the Joint Intelligence Committee.
The members of the committee are notified under the Official Secrets Act 1989 and are given access to highly classified material in carrying out their duties. The committee holds evidence sessions with Government ministers and senior officials (for example, the head of the Security Service). It also considers written evidence from the intelligence and security agencies and relevant government departments.
The work of the committee is invariably conducted in secret, though an unclassified annual report is issued. The committee also produces reports on issues of particular concern, either on its own initiative or at the request of government ministers.
Report on Privacy and Security, March 2015
A special report was published by the ISC following its inquiry into privacy, security and the legislative framework. The committee called for public submissions and held public evidence sessions on the privacy and civil liberties considerations of intelligence agencies’ powers and activities to intercept private communications.
The report found that although GCHQ collects and analyses data in bulk, it does not conduct mass surveillance. The report said the legal framework should be simplified to improve transparency and identified past oversight omissions including unregulated databases and use of the Telecommunications Act 1984.
The ISC is a committee of Parliament, with nine members appointed by Parliament after nomination by the Prime Minister. It is slightly anomalous, being a statutory committee rather than a normal parliamentary select committee. The ISC was created by Part 1 of the Justice and Security Act 2013, which reversed the previous, more anomalous, position, where the members of the committee were appointed by, and reported to, the Prime Minister, after nomination by Parliament.
The committee has greater powers than a select committee of Parliament, being able to demand papers from former governments and official advice to ministers, both of which are forbidden to select committees.
The committee has an independent secretariat which was previously provided by the Cabinet Office. In its 2009–10 annual report, the ISC said there was a conflict of interest in being hosted by a department which came under its scrutiny and it has since moved to government offices at 35 Great Smith Street, with an independent web page. It also, from 2009, had a panel of three investigators: a general investigator to undertake specific investigations covering the administration and policy of the agencies, a financial investigator covering expenditure issues, and a legal advisor to provide the committee with independent legal advice. It is not known whether the current committee has continued with these three investigators. From 1999 to 2004, the committee's only investigator was John Morrison, who is a co-author of the only in-depth study of the ISC to date.
Before 2013, the ISC had been established under the terms of the Intelligence Services Act 1994. There was an unsuccessful attempt to bring the committee under the administration of parliament in July 2008.
Since the committee is nominated by the Prime Minister, the degree to which it is independent has been questioned by journalists, privacy groups such as Liberty, and MPs. The ISC itself says it is independent because it is composed of cross-party MPs and Peers and gained stronger powers under the Justice and Security Act 2013.
Parliament appoints the nine members from both the House of Commons and the House of Lords, after considering nominations from the Prime Minister. Serving ministers are not allowed to be members, but members may previously have held ministerial positions. Members of the committee cease to be members when Parliament is dissolved, and new members are appointed after the new Parliament convenes.
As of May 2014, the membership of the committee is as follows:
- Rt Hon. Sir Malcolm Rifkind, KCMG QC MP (Chairman) - until 24 February 2015, when Rifkind resigned his position as Chairman of the Committee, stating that he did not want to bring its work into disrepute before the 2015 General Election, following a conflict of interest sting involving a bogus Chinese company, set up by media journalists, and his subsequent suspension from the Conservative party.
- Rt Hon. Hazel Blears, MP
- Lord Butler of Brockwell, KG GCB CVO PC
- Rt Hon. Sir Menzies Campbell, CBE QC MP
- Mark Field, MP
- Rt Hon. George Howarth, MP
- Julian Lewis, MP
- Most Hon. The Marquess of Lothian, PC DL QC
- Fiona Mactaggart, MP
Source: ISC: Committee Members
In popular culture
- Global surveillance disclosures (2013–present)
- Intelligence and Security Committee (New Zealand)
- Investigatory Powers Tribunal
- Mass surveillance in the United Kingdom
- Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security (Australia)
- United States Senate Select Committee on Intelligence
- "Privacy and Security Inquiry – Call for Evidence" (PDF). Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament. 11 December 2013. Retrieved 17 December 2013.
- "Privacy and Security Inquiry – Public Evidence Sessions" (PDF). Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament. 9 October 2014. Retrieved 4 February 2015.
- "UK surveillance 'lacks transparency', ISC report says". BBC. 12 March 2015. Retrieved 14 March 2015.
- "Privacy and Security: A modern and transparent legal framework". Inteligence and Security Committee of Parliament. 12 March 2015. Retrieved 14 March 2015.
- "Intelligence and security committee report: the key findings". The Guardian. 12 March 2015. Retrieved 14 March 2015.
- "The Open Side of Secrecy: Britain's Intelligence and Security Committee": Anthony Glees, Philip H J Davies and John N L Morrison; Social Affairs Unit, London, 2006, ISBN 1-904863-16-7
- "Section 10 - The Intelligence and Security Committee - Intelligence Services Act 1994". OPSI.
- "Intelligence and Security Committee — Should belong to the House — rejected". The Public Whip. 17 July 2008.
- "UK spy watchdog 'taken in' by security agencies - MP". BBC. 27 February 2015. Retrieved 16 March 2015.