Intelligence and Security Committee

ISC is also used to refer to the Intelligence Services Commissioner.

The Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament[1] (ISC) is a committee appointed by parliament who examine issues related to the various security agencies in the UK as well as some other governmental intelligence activities such as the Joint Intelligence Committee, National Security Secretariat, Office for Security and Counter-Terrorism, and Defence Intelligence.

For some security sensitive issues it reports directly to the Prime Minister,


A proposed amendment[2] to the Justice and Security Bill would be to exempt the ISC from the Freedom of Information Act 2000.

According to James Brokenshire, amendment 50 will;

"[add] the ISC to the list of bodies under section 23 of the Freedom of Information Act. The result would be that ISC information—in other words, information supplied to or by the ISC, whether directly or indirectly, or which relates to it—in the hands of another public body or public authority subject to the Freedom of Information Act, was exempt information for the Act’s purposes. Section 23 is the absolute exemption. Any information falling within the terms of the exemption can be withheld without there being a duty to consider the public interest balance that would otherwise come into play under section 2 of the Freedom of Information Act."

He went on to explain why the Government considers this amendment to be necessary;

"Adding the ISC to the list of section 23 bodies is also a protection for witnesses before the ISC. If an ISC witness is an employee in a Government Department, the Department inevitably holds copies of the witness’s written and oral evidence—the latter because the ISC’s practice is to send witnesses a transcript of their oral evidence for checking. Without the full protection of a section 23 exemption, witnesses who do not represent the agencies might feel constrained about what they could say in evidence. That would make the ISC’s scrutiny role less effective; naturally, it relies on witnesses being frank about subjects that are, by their very nature, sensitive."

He believes that "witnesses would be more guarded in what they said were there anything less than a complete guarantee that the information they provide to the ISC will not ultimately be disclosed under the Freedom of Information Act."


The Justice and Security Act 2013 contains a number of reforms that widen the powers of the committee[3], including public hearings with the heads of MI5, MI6, and GCHQ. The first of these hearings is scheduled for November 2013[4]

A piece by Peter Sommer published by the Guardian[5][6] outlines suggestions for improving oversight by the committee, that it be a proper Select Committee of Commons and Lords with no pre-nomination by the Prime Minister and preferably with a robust Chair; to have extended semi-permanent staff including a privacy advocate and academic technical experts not drawn from the intelligence community.

Similar recommendations reform have also been made by Lord Macdonald of River Glaven[7].

Labour have plans to make the Committee a proper select committee in order to protect witnesses giving evidence.[8]


2014 Privacy and Security Inquiry

Announced in December 2013[9] the deadline for submissions was 7 February 2014.


The report was published 2015-03-12 and a partially redacted version has been published on the web.



  • 2014-10-15 11:45 - Session 3 Parliament Live stream
    • Assistant Chief Constable Richard Berry – Gloucestershire Police
    • Deputy Chief Constable Jon Boucher - Bedfordshire Police
    • Jim Killock - Open Rights Group
    • Professor Charles Raab - Edinburgh University
    • Professor Peter Sommer - De Montford University
  • 2014-10-15 14:00 - Session 4 Parliament Live stream
    • Peter Gill - Liverpool University
    • Professor John Naughton - Cambridge University
    • Dr Julian Richards - University of Buckingham
    • Professor Tom Simpson - Oxford University


7 November 2013 Intellgence chiefs first appareance


External links

Annual Reports


  1. Known as Intelligence and Security Committee prior to enactment of the Justice and Security Act 2013
  2. Clause 1 - The Intelligence and Security Committee, 2013-01-29
  3. Top spooks to be quizzed in public, Telegraph, 2012-11-10
  4. Open Evidence Session, ISC, 2013-10-23
  5. Who's watching GCHQ?, Peter Sommer, 2013-10-06
  6. Stronger oversight' of GCHQ - how?, Peter Sommer, 2013-10-23 (expanded from Guardian piece
  7. Proper parliamentary oversight of the security services is desperately needed, 2013-12-31
  8. Whistleblowers should get better protection, says Labour, Guardian, 2013-11-06
  9. Inquiry announcement, 2013-12-11