What is the Covert Human Intelligence Sources Act?

This sensitive and important Covert Human Intelligence Sources Act was given Royal Assent on March 1st 2021 and now becomes law. But what does it actually mean?

The Act provides express legal power for intelligence agencies, enforcement agencies and some public bodies to continue to use undercover agents in preventing and protecting victims from serious crimes such as terrorism.

This acknowledges that those undercover agents – or correctly – Covert Human Intelligence Sources (CHIS) may need to take part in criminal conduct with criminals or terrorists in order to gain their trust and infiltrate these groups. And that criminal conduct authorisations (CCA’s) must be given for this.

It is fair to say that this Act has been regarded as contentious by many political and human advocacy organisations.

Which public bodies are covered under this Act?

The following organisations can grant a CCA:

– The National Crime Agency.
– The Serious Fraud Office.
– The Ministry of Justice.
– Any police force.
– The armed forces.
– The intelligence Services.
– The Department of Health and Social Care.
– The Home Office.
– The Environments Agency.
– The Competition and Markets Authority.
– The Environment Agency.
– The Financial Conducts Authority.
– H.M.R.C.
– The Food Standards Agency.
– The Gambling Commission.

About authorisation

There is tight authorisation around CCA’s which is in step with the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) with oversight provided by the Investigatory Powers Commissioner.

This means CCA’s are precise and explicit for example CCA’s can only be granted:

– In the interests of national security.
– For the purpose of preventing or detecting crime.
– For the purpose of detecting or preventing public disorder.
– In the interests of the economic well-being of the UK.

In all instances authorisation must take into consideration whether the same result could be achieved without engaging in criminal conduct.

Why does the Government consider this Act to be necessary?

The Government believes that covert human intelligence sources in operations are indispensable despite advances in surveillance and espionage methods. It also recognises that many intended attacks in recent years would not have been stopped had CHIS not been used.

In his 2019 Annual Report as Investigatory Powers Commissioner, Sir Brian Leveson, revealed that the use of CHIS by law enforcement agencies had decreased year on year since 2017 with 1,958 approvals in 2018 and 1,866 in 2019.

The whole Annual Report by Sir Brian Leveson can be read HERE.