Interception of Communications Act 1985

JurisdictionUK Non-devolved
Citation1985 c. 56


Interception ofCommunications Act 1985

1985 CHAPTER 56

An Act to make new provision for and in connection with the interception of communications sent by post or by means of public telecommunication systems and to amend section 45 of the Telecommunications Act 1984.

[25th July 1985]

Be it enacted by the Queen's most Excellent Majesty, by and with the advice and consent of the Lords Spiritual and Temporal, and Commons, in this present Parliament assembled, and by the authority of the same, as follows:—

S-1 Prohibition on interception.

1 Prohibition on interception.

(1) Subject to the following provisions of this section, a person who intentionally intercepts a communication in the course of its transmission by post or by means of a public telecommunication system shall be guilty of an offence and liable—

(a ) on summary conviction, to a fine not exceeding the statutory maximum;

(b ) on conviction on indictment, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years or to a fine or to both.

(2) A person shall not be guilty of an offence under this section if—

(a ) the communication is intercepted in obedience to a warrant issued by the Secretary of State under section 2 below; or

(b ) that person has reasonable grounds for believing that the person to whom, or the person by whom, the communication is sent has consented to the interception.

(3) A person shall not be guilty of an offence under this section if—

(a ) the communication is intercepted for purposes connected with the provision of postal or public telecommunication services or with the enforcement of any enactment relating to the use of those services; or

(b ) the communication is being transmitted by wireless telegraphy and is intercepted, with the authority of the Secretary of State, for purposes connected with the issue of licences under the Wireless Telegraphy Act 1949 or the prevention or detection of interference with wireless telegraphy.

(4) No proceedings in respect of an offence under this section shall be instituted—

(a ) in England and Wales, except by or with the consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions;

(b ) in Northern Ireland, except by or with the consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions for Northern Ireland.

S-2 Warrants for interception.

2 Warrants for interception.

(1) Subject to the provisions of this section and section 3 below, the Secretary of State may issue a warrant requiring the person to whom it is addressed to intercept, in the course of their transmission by post or by means of a public telecommunication system, such communications as are described in the warrant; and such a warrant may also require the person to whom it is addressed to disclose the intercepted material to such persons and in such manner as are described in the warrant.

(2) The Secretary of State shall not issue a warrant under this section unless he considers that the warrant is necessary—

(a ) in the interests of national security;

(b ) for the purpose of preventing or detecting serious crime; or

(c ) for the purpose of safeguarding the economic well-being of the United Kingdom.

(3) The matters to be taken into account in considering whether a warrant is necessary as mentioned in subsection (2) above shall include whether the information which it is considered necessary to acquire could reasonably be acquired by other means.

(4) A warrant shall not be considered necessary as mentioned in subsection (2)(c ) above unless the information which it is considered necessary to acquire is information relating to the acts or intentions of persons outside the British Islands.

(5) References in the following provisions of this Act to a warrant are references to a warrant under this section.

S-3 Scope of warrants.

3 Scope of warrants.

(1) Subject to subsection (2) below, the interception required by a warrant shall be the interception of—

(a ) such communications as are sent to or from one or more addresses specified in the warrant, being an address or addresses likely to be used for the transmission of communications to or from—

(i) one particular person specified or described in the warrant; or

(ii) one particular set of premises so specified or described; and

(b ) such other communications (if any) as it is necessary to intercept in order to intercept communications falling within paragraph (a ) above.

(2) Subsection (1) above shall not apply to a warrant if—

(a ) the interception required by the warrant is the interception, in the course of their transmission by means of a public telecommunication system, of—

(i) such external communications as are described in the warrant; and

(ii) such other communications (if any) as it is necessary to intercept in order to intercept such external communications as are so described; and

(b ) at the time when the warrant is issued, the Secretary of State issues a certificate certifying the descriptions of intercepted material the examination of which he considers necessary as mentioned in section 2(2) above.

(3) A certificate such as is mentioned in subsection (2) above shall not specify an address in the British Islands for the purpose of including communications sent to or from that address in the certified material unless—

(a ) the Secretary of State considers that the examination of communications sent to or from that address is necessary for the purpose of preventing or detecting acts of terrorism; and

(b ) communications sent to or from that address are included in the certified material only in so far as they are sent within such a period, not exceeding three months, as is specified in the certificate.

(4) A certificate such as is mentioned in subsection (2) above shall not be issued except under the hand of the Secretary of State.

(5) References in the following provisions of this Act to a certificate are references to a certificate such as is mentioned in subsection (2) above.

S-4 Issue and duration of warrants.

4 Issue and duration of warrants.

(1) A warrant shall not be issued except—

(a ) under the hand of the Secretary of State; or

(b ) in an urgent case where the Secretary of State has expressly authorised its issue and a statement of that fact is endorsed thereon, under the hand of an official of his department of or above the rank of Assistant Under Secretary of State.

(2) A warrant shall, unless renewed under subsection (3) below, cease to have effect at the end of the relevant period.

(3) The Secretary of State may, at any time before the end of the relevant period, renew a warrant if he considers that the warrant continues to be necessary as mentioned in section 2(2) above.

(4) If, at any time before the end of the relevant period, the Secretary of State considers that a warrant is no longer necessary as mentioned in section 2(2) above, he shall cancel the warrant.

(5) A warrant shall not be renewed except by an instrument under the hand of the Secretary of State.

(6) In this section ‘the relevant period’—

(a ) in relation to a warrant which has not been renewed, means—

(i)if the warrant was issued under subsection (1)(a ) above, the period of two months beginning with the day on which it was issued; and
(ii)if the warrant was issued under subsection (1)(b ) above, the period ending with the second working day following that day;

(b ) in relation to a warrant which was last renewed within the period mentioned in paragraph (a )(ii) above, means the period of two months beginning with the day on which it was so renewed; and

(c ) in relation to a warrant which was last renewed at any other time, means—

(i)if the instrument by which it was so renewed is endorsed with a statement that the renewal is considered necessary as mentioned in section 2(2)(a ) or (c ) above, the period of six months beginning with the day on which it was so renewed; and

(ii) if that instrument is not so endorsed, the period of one month beginning with that day.

S-5 Modification of warrants etc.

5 Modification of warrants etc.

(1) The Secretary of State may at any time—

(a ) modify a warrant by the insertion of any address which he considers likely to be used as mentioned in section 3(1)(a ) above; or

(b ) modify a certificate so as to include in the certified material any material the examination of which he considers necessary as mentioned in section 2(2) above.

(2) If at any time the Secretary of State considers that any address specified in a warrant is no longer likely to be used as mentioned in section 3(1)(a ) above, he shall modify the warrant by the deletion of that address.

(3) If at any time the Secretary of State considers that the material certified by a certificate includes any material the examination of which is no longer necessary as mentioned in section 2(2) above, he shall modify the certificate so as to exclude that material from the certified material.

(4) A warrant or certificate shall not be modified under subsection (1) above except by an instrument under the hand of the Secretary of State or, in an urgent case—

(a ) under the hand of a person holding office under the...

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