Surveillance powers and the generation of intelligence within the law

Authored by: Simon McKay , Jon Moran

Routledge Handbook of Law and Terrorism

Print publication date:  July  2015
Online publication date:  July  2015

Print ISBN: 9780415870375
eBook ISBN: 9780203795835
Adobe ISBN: 9781134455096


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Intelligence, defined as ‘information [that] is gathered and analysed, sometimes secretly, and then used to understand a particular situation and act with advantage in it’, 1 is increasingly important to law enforcement and security. First, it is evident that intelligence gathering is a requirement for the disruption of individuals and organisations engaged in serious criminal activity or political violence. 2 Intelligence allows for the gathering of information on the scope and operations of such groups and, when in the form of information from informants, may provide knowledge of their perceptions and intentions. Some of this intelligence may go on to be the basis for the gathering of evidence to be used in criminal proceedings. 3 Other intelligence may be used for the purpose of incapacitation measures, such as detention without trial. Intelligence may also be used for disruption activities, preventing attacks, undermining criminals’ confidence, incapacitating weapons, disrupting finances and so forth. 4 Second, these complex functions of intelligence, operating ‘in the shadows’ beyond arrest, charge and prosecution, raise the matter of accountability. It is necessary that intelligence does not become a ‘black box’ within which police and security agencies can act with impunity. This seemed at times to be the position of the UK Security Service (MI5) in the 1960s and 1970s, the Royal Ulster Constabulary Special Branch in the 1970s and the Special Demonstration Squad in London and similar units elsewhere in the 1980s and 1990s 5 and has re-emerged recently following the activities of rogue undercover police officers, in cases like R v Barkshire. 6 Third, though it is therefore necessary to use the law to regulate intelligence activities, there is a danger that the law is either too broad, too vague or even too restrictive (the latter is not the case in the UK).

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