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ISC proposes changes for better oversight of the UK intelligence community

Warwick Ashford

The latest annual report of the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC), which covers the work of all UK intelligence agencies, including cybersecurity, calls for several changes to increase the accountability, transparency and capacity for oversight of the intelligence community.

The UK intelligence machinery has a justifiably proud history and strong reputation among its partners around the world, and to sustain that and tackle problems highlighted in the report, the ISC has made several proposals for change, said committee chairman Malcolm Rifkind.

"After a thorough review during the course of this year, we have concluded that the current arrangements are significantly out of date and it is time for change," he said in a statement.

The latest report, presented today to parliament by the prime minister, covers proposals for reform of the ISC to provide more effective, credible and transparent oversight of the UK intelligence community, said Rifkind.

Key proposals by the ISC:

  • Instead of being appointed by the prime minister, the ISC should become a committee of parliament, with the necessary safeguards, reporting both to parliament and the prime minister.
  • The remit of the committee should be amended to reflect the fact that the ISC has for some years taken evidence from, and made recommendations regarding, the wider intelligence community, and not just SIS, GCHQ and the Security Service.
  • The committee's remit should be amended to reflect the fact that it is not limited to examining policy, administration and finances, but encompasses all the work of the agencies, including operations.
  • The committee must have the power in future to require, and not just, as at present, request information to be provided by the agencies. Any power to withhold information should be held at secretary of state level, and not by the heads of the agencies.
  • The committee should have greater research resources at its disposal.

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