Telecommunications Act 1984

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The Telecommunications Act 1984[1]
Long titleAn Act to provide for the appointment and functions of a Director General of Telecommunications; to abolish British Telecommunications’ exclusive privilege with respect to telecommunications and to make new provision with respect to the provision of telecommunication services and certain related services; to make provision, in substitution for the Telegraph Acts 1863 to 1916 and Part IV of the Post Office Act 1969, for the matters there dealt with and related matters; to provide for the vesting of property, rights and liabilities of British Telecommunications in a company nominated by the Secretary of State and the subsequent dissolution of British Telecommunications; to make provision with respect to the finances of that company; to amend the Wireless Telegraphy Acts 1949 to 1967, to make further provision for facilitating enforcement of those Acts and otherwise to make provision with respect to wireless telegraphy apparatus and certain related apparatus; to give statutory authority for the payment out of money provided by Parliament of expenses incurred by the Secretary of State in providing a radio interference service; to increase the maximum number of members of British Telecommunications pending its dissolution; and for connected purposes.
Citation1984 c 12
Royal assent12 April 1984
Text of statute as originally enacted
Revised text of statute as amended

The Telecommunications Act 1984 (c 12) is an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. The rules for the industry are now contained in the Communications Act 2003.


The provisions of the act included the following:

  • Privatising British Telecom.
  • Establishing Oftel as a telecommunications regulator to protect consumers' interests and market competition.[2]
  • Introducing a licensing system for running a telecommunications system or making a connection to another system without a licence. Doing so without a licence became a criminal offence.[3]
  • Setting standards for modems according to BABT rules.
  • Criminalising indecent, offensive or threatening phone calls.

Section 94[edit]

Section 94 of the act provides a very broad power of government regulation of telecommunications in the interests of national security or relations with foreign governments. It allows any Secretary of State to give secret directions to Ofcom or any providers of public electronic communications networks. They can be instructed “to do, or not to do” any particular thing specified, and the directions do not automatically expire after a certain period. The Secretary of State is required to lay a copy of every such direction before parliament so as to alert parliament to any possible misuse. However, this need not be done if to do so would be against the interests of national security or relations with foreign governments.[4]

It is not known to what extent this power has been used. In reply to a parliamentary question, the security minister James Brokenshire replied: “If the question relates to section 94 of the Telecommunications Act, then I am afraid I can neither confirm nor deny any issues in relation to the utilisation or otherwise of section 94.” The Interception of Communications Commissioner was asked in 2015 by prime minister David Cameron to oversee section 94 directions, but was unable to do so because "there does not appear to be a comprehensive central record of the directions that have been issued by the various Secretaries of State." The commissioner recommended that oversight of section 94 directions is put on a statutory footing and that future legislation requires the use of the section 94 directions to be reported to the commissioner.[5]

Subsequently, on 4 November 2015, the Home Secretary announced that after the September 11 attacks in the U.S., MI5 started collecting bulk telephone communications data on which telephone numbers called each other and when, under a section 94 direction instead of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 which would have brought independent oversight and regulation. This had been kept secret until announced in 2015, without laying the direction before parliament under the against the interests of national security exemption.[6][7][8]


  1. ^ The citation of this Act by this short title is authorised by section 110(1) of this Act.
  2. ^ Zhang, Hongqin (January 2014). "Cyber Law in the United Kingdom: Review and Comment". 2014 International Conference on Management, Education and Social Science (ICMESS 2014). Atlantis Press. doi:10.2991/icmess-14.2014.46. ISBN 978-90786-77-98-7. Retrieved 22 August 2015.
  3. ^ Latipulhayat, Atip (2013). "Telecommunications Licensing Regime: A New Method of State Control After Privatisation of Telecommunications". Journal of International Commercial Law and Technology. 9 (1): 24–35. Retrieved 22 August 2015.
  4. ^ Julian Huppert (13 August 2015). "1984 revisited". openDemocracy. Retrieved 20 August 2015.
  5. ^ The Rt Hon. Sir Anthony May (16 July 2015). "Half-yearly report of the Interception of Communications Commissioner" (PDF). HMSO. Retrieved 2015-08-20.
  6. ^ Gordon Corera (5 November 2015). "How and why MI5 kept phone data spy programme secret". BBC. Retrieved 9 November 2015.
  7. ^ Tom Whitehead (4 November 2015). "MI5 and GCHQ secretly bulk collecting British public's phone and email records for years, Theresa May reveals". Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 9 November 2015.
  8. ^ "Here's the little-known legal loophole that permitted mass surveillance in the UK". The Register. 9 November 2015. Retrieved 9 November 2015.

See also[edit]