The government has finally made public a secretive direction that requires snoop oversight bodies to monitor spies’ potential participation in criminality.
The oversight instruction was put on a statutory basis as a Prime Ministerial direction in 2014.
However its existence was only revealed in 2016 as a result of legal action by campaign groups Privacy International and Reprieve - and even then the details remained a mystery.
Documents released through a challenge in the Investigatory Powers Tribunal that year revealed that the government had given the snoops' oversight bodies three directions, but only two were set out in open.
One was related to the controversial collection and retention of bulk personal datasets, which is subject to ongoing legal challenges, while the second was to monitor compliance with the Consolidated Guidance on Detainees, which sets out rules for interviewing and detaining people overseas.
The final one, which was redacted, has since been known as the “third direction” - and this is what the prime minister Theresa May has today revealed.
In a written statement, May said that she was making the direction public knowledge “in accordance with my obligation to publish such directions under Section 230 of the Investigatory Powers Act 2016”.
However, Privacy International - which has long pushed for the release of the direction - said that there was “no justification” for it not to have been published earlier.
“Had we not sought to challenge the government over the failure to publish this direction, together with Reprieve, it is questionable whether it would have ever been brought to light,” said Camilla Graham-Wood, a solicitor at Privacy International.
“It is wrong in principle for there to be entire areas of intelligence oversight and potentially of intelligence activity, about which the public knows nothing at all.”
The direction was handed to the Investigatory Powers Commissioner’s Office last summer, ahead of it taking over the duties of the Intelligence Services Commissioner - the body previously tasked with the responsibility - in September 2017.
Commissioner Adrian Fulford welcomed the decision to make the directions public.
I welcome the Government’s decision to make public my oversight of this sensitive area of work. AF— IPCO (@IPCOffice) March 1, 2018
May’s statement said that the directions would be deposited in the Houses of Parliament library. ®