The Office of Surveillance Commissioners is responsible for overseeing the use of covert surveillance by designated public authorities based in the UK, and by the Police and Customs operating within the Sovereign Base Areas of Cyprus. We do not oversee the intelligence or security services.
The OSC is judge-based and entirely independent of Government and all other public authorities. Its modest budget is funded by the Home Office but the Home Office has no control over how it carries out its functions.
Our aim is to provide effective and efficient oversight so that the conduct of covert activities by public authorities is human rights compliant in accordance with the following legislation, from which our authority is derived:
- Part III of the Police Act 1997 (as amended by the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA)
- Parts II and III of RIPA
- The Regulation of Investigatory Powers (Scotland) Act 2000 (RIP(S)A)
- Regulation of Investigatory Powers Ordinance 2012 (RIPO)
There are presently more than 500 public authorities who can use some or all of the following tactics, ranging from small district councils to the police and large national organisations such as Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs and the Department for Work & Pensions.
We inspect their use of the following:
- property interference
- intrusive surveillance
- directed surveillance
- covert human intelligence sources (CHIS)
- protected electronic information
Property interference and intrusive surveillance can only be used by police forces and other law enforcement agencies.
Appendix E of the Chief Surveillance Commissioner’s Annual Report for 2012-13 lists those whom we inspect, and how often.
The Annual Report of the Chief Surveillance Commissioner contains an overview of authorised covert activity for the previous year. This website will tell you about what we do, and how, but will not provide details of the matters we inspect or approve.