Intelligence Services Act 1994

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This article is about the United Kingdom law. For the South African law, see Intelligence Services Act, 1994.
Intelligence Services Act 1994
Act of Parliament
Long title
Citation 1994 c. 13
Territorial extent United Kingdom
  • 2 November 1994: §12(4)[1]
  • 15 December 1994: remainder[1]
Other legislation
Relates to
Status: Unknown
Text of the Intelligence Services Act 1994 as in force today (including any amendments) within the United Kingdom, from the UK Statute Law Database

The Intelligence Services Act 1994 (c. 13) is an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom.

The Act, sometimes abbreviated as ISA,[2] is introduced by the Long Title which states:

An Act to make provision about the Secret Intelligence Service and the Government Communications Headquarters, including provision for the issue of warrants and authorisations enabling certain actions to be taken and for the issue of such warrants and authorisations to be kept under review; to make further provision about warrants issued on applications by the Security Service; to establish a procedure for the investigation of complaints about the Secret Intelligence Service and the Government Communications Headquarters; to make provision for the establishment of an Intelligence and Security Committee to scrutinise all three of those bodies; and for connected purposes.

The Act placed SIS and GCHQ on a statutory footing for the first time. The role of SIS was defined as: "to obtain and provide information relating to the actions or intentions of persons outside the British Islands; and to perform other tasks relating to the actions or intentions of such persons". The Act provided for a tribunal to investigate complaints and an oversight committee (the Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament) composed of nine MPs reporting to the Prime Minister.[3]

The Act also gives the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs the power to grant immunity from British prosecution to SIS personnel when they engage in any acts while on operations abroad that would be illegal under British law, such as murder.[4]


Section 1 of the act provides authority for the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) to conduct intelligence activities, while Section 3 provides the similar basis for the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ):

in the interests of national security, with particular reference to the defence and foreign policies of Her Majesty's government in the United Kingdom; or in the interests of the economic wellbeing of the UK; or in the support of the prevention or detection of serious crime[5]

The phrase "interests of the economic wellbeing of the UK" has been criticized by European governments as appearing to authorize industrial espionage.[5]


The activities of the intelligence agencies of the United Kingdom are regulated by the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA)[5] which incorporates by reference the Human Rights Act 1998.[2]


Disclosed by Edward Snowden in 2013: Acting under the authority granted by the act British intelligence agencies have monitored foreign leaders and diplomats at international conferences such as meetings of the G20.[6][7] The information gathered has been used to brief senior British participants during the conferences.[5]

Disclosed by Edward Snowden in 2013: Under warrants which authorize intercepting internet traffic by tapping into fiber optic cables the Tempora program gathers all traffic flowing through the cables at the intercept point and then, using search algorithms which select material which conforms to the purposes authorized by the warrants, logs promising results for further examination. In addition to "interests of the economic wellbeing of the UK", the purposes include "intelligence on the political intentions of foreign governments; military postures of foreign countries; terrorism, international drug trafficking and fraud."[8]

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 "The Intelligence Services Act 1994 (Commencement) Order 1994 [1994 No. 2734 (c. 60)]". 15 October 1994. Retrieved 19 October 2015. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 "Oversight". MI5. Retrieved 17 June 2013. 
  3. Twigge, Stephen; Edward Hampshire; Graham Macklin (2008). British Intelligence: Secrets, Spies and Sources. Kew, Richmond, Surrey [England]: The National Archives. p. 87. ISBN 978-1-905615-00-1. OCLC 237184873. 
  4. Shubow, Justin (16 November 2006). "Does James Bond have a License to Kill?". Slate. Under Section 7 of the Intelligence Services Act, the Secretary of State can authorize persons to commit acts abroad for which they may not be held liable under British law. By implication, that includes all criminal law relating to the use of lethal force... Despite its protections, the act does not and cannot immunize agents from the law of the foreign lands in which they operate. 
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 "The laws that allow intelligence agencies to spy on foreign diplomats: The Intelligence Services Act and Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act are broad enough to allow all manner of operations". The Guardian. June 16, 2013. Retrieved June 17, 2013. 
  6. Ewen MacAskill; Nick Davies; Nick Hopkins; Julian Borger; James Ball (June 17, 2013). "GCHQ intercepted foreign politicians' communications at G20 summits Exclusive: phones were monitored and fake internet cafés set up to gather information from allies in London in 2009". The Guardian. Retrieved June 17, 2013. 
  7. Scott Shane; Ravi Somaiya (June 16, 2013). "New Leak Indicates U.S. and Britain Eavesdropped at ’09 World Conferences". The New York Times. Retrieved June 17, 2013. 
  8. Ewen MacAskill; Julian Borger; Nick Hopkins; Nick Davies; James Ball (June 21, 2013). "The legal loopholes that allow GCHQ to spy on the world: William Hague has hailed GCHQ's 'democratic accountability', but legislation drafted before a huge expansion of internet traffic appears to offer flexibility". The Guardian. Retrieved June 22, 2013. According to the documents, the certificate authorises GCHQ to search for material under a number of themes, including: intelligence on the political intentions of foreign governments; military postures of foreign countries; terrorism, international drug trafficking and fraud 

External links