Bulk Powers Review announced

Scope of the Review

As widely reported, I have been asked to follow up my 2015 report A Question of Trust (AQOT) by conducting a¬†review into the operational case for the four¬† bulk collection powers provided for in Parts 6 and 7 of the Investigatory Powers Bill for the use of MI5, MI6 and GCHQ (“the Agencies”).¬†¬† Those powers relate to bulk interception, bulk acquisition, bulk equipment interference and bulk personal datasets, and are summarised in an Operational Case laid before Parliament on 1 March alongside¬†the Bill.

Conduct of the Review will involve the close scrutiny and interrogation of a volume of very highly classified material.  I will be asking whether the Government has established a robust operational case for the bulk powers it says it needs, and examining whether similar results could have been reached by other, less intrusive, means.  Outside the scope of the Review are issues relating to safeguards and proportionality, many of which I touched on in AQOT.  The question I am asked is more basic than that: are the bulk powers really needed at all?

The Review’s¬†terms of reference require me to report in time¬†for the¬†detailed debate¬†on the powers at committee stage¬†in the House of Lords.

The Review Team

I have been given a free hand to recruit specialist assistance (with top-level security clearance) to help with the Review.  The result is a strong team, with diverse qualities:

  • Cathryn McGahey¬†is leading counsel to the Review.¬† She is a barrister specialising in national security work, immigration law and public inquiries. She was junior counsel to the Bloody Sunday Inquiry from 2000 to 2010 and is currently co-counsel to the Independent Jersey Care Inquiry. She was a special advocate from 2007 to 2016, representing, among others, the only successful appellant in the Operation Pathway Manchester bomb plot case, and Ethiopian nationals whose appeals led the Home Secretary to concede that deportations to Ethiopia could not proceed. Cathryn has worked extensively both for and against government departments.¬†¬†She¬†is skilled in interrogating evidence based on¬†intelligence from the Agencies. She became a QC in 2016.
  • Dr Robert L Nowill is technical adviser to the Review. (as¬†he was previously to AQOT).¬† He was the Director for Cyber and Assurance at BT until 2013.¬† Before 2005, he was the Director of Technology & Engineering at GCHQ, having held a number of other technical and operational roles there previously.¬† His career has also included periods with UK MoD (Defence Procurement Agency and Research Agencies), with the SHAPE Technical Centre in the Netherlands and at Cambridge University Engineering Department.¬† Bob is a Chartered Engineer and Chartered IT Professional, a Fellow of the IET and of the BCS, and a Founder Fellow of the Institute of Information Security Professionals.¬† He currently chairs The Cyber Security Challenge UK Ltd. and works as an independent security consultant.¬†¬†He brings to the Review an understanding of the processes involved in the exercise of the powers under review, and will¬†have the¬†opportunity¬†to test the technical assertions made to us by the Agencies.
  • ¬†Gordon Meldrum QPM is investigatory adviser to the Review.¬† He is one of the UK‚Äôs most experienced former chief police officers in the field of organised crime operations, having spent 30 years leading investigations in Scotland and in London.¬† As a former Director-General of the Scottish Crime and Drug Enforcement Agency and Director of Intelligence at the National Crime Agency, he brings to the Review particular expertise in the use of intelligence (including from the security and intelligence agencies) for the investigation of serious crime in the UK and internationally.¬†¬† Gordon retired from law enforcement in 2015 and now runs his own consultancy business, advising on public protection, serious and organised crime threats, risk mitigation and leadership development.¬† He has the¬†skills and investigatory experience to advise whether¬†the advantages claimed for¬†bulk could have been obtained by other, less intrusive¬†means.

Working methods

The review has already been in preparation for a while.¬† I am grateful for design ideas¬†from the Don’t Spy on Us Coalition, Liberty and Lord Strasburger.¬†¬†The Operational Case will be interrogated, in its open and closed versions, by putting the Agencies to strict proof of its claims, and other avenues will be pursued.¬† We have studied and¬†will learn lessons from the small number of similar reviews that have taken place worldwide, including those conducted in the USA by the¬†Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board¬†and the National Academy of Sciences.¬† We shall be¬†seeking comment from¬†the Agencies on views¬†expressed by¬†the SURVEILLE project, Bill Binney and others.¬† To the extent relevant, we shall also of course be scrutinising the open and closed conclusions of the UK’s own supervisory bodies and courts: the¬†Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament, the Interception of Communications Commissioner, the Intelligence Services Commissioner and the Investigatory Powers Tribunal.

Multiple bundles of documents have been prepared for the team, at my request and to my order.  I have spoken with officials from each Agency to convey my specific initial requirements, and evidence sessions at each Agency have been scheduled for the team.  I have written to each Agency Chief to underline the importance of the Review and to secure an undertaking of their full and prompt cooperation at appropriate levels of expertise and seniority.


A large number of submissions on the subject of bulk were summarised in chapter 12 of AQOT.  Since then, large quantities of further evidence have been submitted to the three parliamentary committees that conducted scrutiny of the draft Bill.  But because of the relatively narrow focus of the Review and the classified nature of the evidence that chiefly matters, I will not be launching an additional general call for submissions.

We will however be talking to experts who, though without access to classified material, may be able to inform our interrogation and scrutiny.  The Review Team is complete, but if you have specialist expertise or experience that you think could usefully assist our task, feel free to contact me: independent.reviewer@brickcourt.co.uk.