• FAQs

    Where can I find IPCO's Annual Reports? 

    Our Annual Reports are available here the Publications page of our website.

    When did the Investigatory Powers Act come into force? 

    The Investigatory Powers Act (IPA) received Royal Assent in 2016. Since then, the Act has been implemented in phases. The IPA will be fully in force by 2020.

    What happened before the Investigatory Powers Act? 

    Relevant organisations could make use of investigatory powers before the Investigatory Powers Act (IPA). These were previously set out in legislation such as the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (2000), the Police Act (1997) and Regulation of Investigatory Powers (Scotland) Act (2000).

    These Acts still exist and some of these powers are still overseen by IPCO.

    Why was the Investigatory Powers Act necessary? 

    The Investigatory Powers Act (IPA) brought together existing powers available to obtain intelligence and communications data through the use of covert investigatory powers. The Act ensured that these powers are fit for a digital age and overhauled the way investigatory powers are authorised and overseen. This included introducing new safeguards in the approval of the use of investigatory powers use and created a single independent Investigatory Powers Commissioner responsible for oversight.

    What are Investigatory Powers? 

    Investigatory powers are the powers by which an authorised organisation can covertly gather information for investigative or intelligence purposes. Details about the different kinds of investigatory powers can be found on the 'What we do' page.

    Who uses Investigatory Powers?  

    In the UK, there are over 600 organisations authorised to use investigatory powers. The use of these powers by these organisations is overseen by IPCO. However, not every organisation can use every power and the most intrusive powers can only be used by a small number. Full details of which organisations can use what powers can be found in the body of the legislation and is broken down in IPCO's Annual Report.

    What is a Judicial Commissioner? 

    A Judicial Commissioner (JC) is a serving or retired member of the senior judiciary in the UK. JCs provide independent authorisation of applications for the use of certain investigatory powers. The Investigatory Powers Act sets out that a JC must hold or have held a high judicial office (within the meaning of Part 3 of the Constitutional Reform Act 2005).

    How does IPCO work with other organisations? 

    IPCO regularly engages with a range of organisations and interested parties, including NGOs, academics, communications service providers, law enforcement agencies, intelligence agencies, local authorities and other public bodies.

    Organisations have been invited to contribute to consultations, information days for staff and Judicial Commissioners (JCs) and views have been sought on specific issues of concern. Inspectors and JCs represent IPCO at various events across the UK, to raise awareness about the work we do. The Investigatory Powers Commissioner also meets personally with organisations to discuss how we can improve transparency and maintain cooperation.

    Who does IPCO work with overseas? 

    Our international work generally falls into three categories: 1) engagement with our Five Eyes oversight counterparts; 2) cooperation with European oversight bodies; 3) supporting the work of the UN’s Special Rapporteur on the Right to privacy, Professor Joe Cannataci. IPCO works with these overseas organisations to share good practice on review and oversight methodology.

    How does IPCO ensure it is up-to-date with the latest technology developments? 

    The Investigatory Powers Commissioner (IPC) and Judicial Commissioners (JCs) are advised by an independent Technology Advisory Panel (TAP). Members of the TAP can advise the IPC and JCs on the impact of changing technology and the development of techniques to use investigatory powers whilst minimising privacy interference.

    The TAP, together with IPCO’s legal team, provide briefings on technical detail and practical processes about the use of investigatory powers. IPCO’s inspectors, legal team, policy team and communications team also regularly engage with external stakeholders, speaking at forums and attending roundtables, to keep up-to-date with any changes in technology that may impact their work.

    Who works at IPCO and how do I find out about job opportunities? 

    IPCO employs approximately 50 people with a diverse range of backgrounds and experience. Staff include inspectors, lawyers, communications experts and others. More information can be found on our 'Who we are' page.

    We are currently recruiting. Vacancies are advertised on the Civil Service Jobs website

    Is IPCO part of the UK Government?  

    No. IPCO is an Arm’s Length Body of the Home Office and led by a member of the senior judiciary. Although the IPC was created by the Investigatory Powers Act 2016, they independently oversee the use of investigatory powers and submit an annual report of findings to the Prime Minister.

    How do I submit an academic request for information or an interview?  

    Academic requests can be submitted by completing an academic request form.

    Can I submit an FOI request to IPCO?

    IPCO is not subject to the Freedom of Information Act.

    Nonetheless, IPCO has a specific requirement to make certain information public, as set out in the Investigatory Powers Act. IPCO will provide information about its work through an Annual Report which is laid in Parliament by the Prime Minister. IPCO will also share information as appropriate, where it is possible to do so taking account of national security interests, in other formats and in response to requests.

    My organisation has had a Freedom of Information (FOI) request on our use of investigatory powers, what should I do?

    IPCO is not a "public authority" for the purpose of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)/Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act (FOISA). However, we appreciate that some organisations that we inspect are subject to the FOIA/FOISA and may receive requests for disclosure of our reports.

    If you receive a request for an IPCO report of an inspection of your organisation, you should bring the matter to the IPCO Data Protection Officer (at: info@ipco.org.uk), before making any disclosure.

    I am concerned that my rights have been breached, what do I do?

    If you are concerned that you have been a victim of unlawful action by a public authority using covert investigative techniques, such as investigatory powers, you can register a complaint with the Investigatory Powers Tribunal. Information about how to file a complaint can be found here on their website.

    How can I find out if a public authority has authorised the use of covert powers to obtain my communications data, or conduct surveillance upon me?

    The Data Protection Act 1998 (DPA) gives individuals the right to apply for access to personal data relating to them. This is known as a “subject access request”. However, under the exemption provision in section 28 of the DPA, requests for information may be declined in cases where it is necessary to safeguard national security. IPCO does not process or store any personal information relating to subjects of covert surveillance. If a person has reason to believe they may have been subject to the use of investigatory powers they should make application to the relevant public authority, using the provisions of the DPA, and noting the exemption under section 28.

    What is OCDA and how is it connected to IPCO? 

    The Office for Communications Data Authorisations (OCDA) considers requests for communications data from law enforcement and public authorities. Communications data (CD) is the who, where, when and how of a communication but not the content.

    The IPA builds on, and supersedes parts of, the Regulations of Investigatory Powers Act. The IPA has granted law enforcement and public authorities updated powers to access CD for legitimate purposes.

    OCDA was established in 2019.  OCDA carries out the important function of safeguarding an individual’s right to privacy under the Human Rights Act. OCDA makes independent decisions on whether to grant or refuse communications data requests, ensuring that all requests are lawful, necessary and proportionate.

    The Investigatory Powers Commissioner is responsible for authorising CD requests. He acts through OCDA for these purposes and he is the head of the organisation.

    OCDA began processing applications from public authorities on 26 March 2019.