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The Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Bill is a government bill that would provide an express power to authorise covert human intelligence sources (CHIS) to participate in conduct which would otherwise constitute a criminal offence. It would do this by amending the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000. The bill would provide the security and intelligence agencies, law enforcement agencies, and several public authorities a statutory power to authorise CHIS to participate in criminal conduct, when deemed necessary and proportionate to do so.

Under the 2000 act, a person is defined as a CHIS if they establish or maintain a personal or other relationship with an individual for the covert purpose of obtaining or disclosing information. Although not mentioned in the 2000 act, the Government has noted that there will be occasions where a CHIS may need to participate in criminal conduct. The Government has described such actions as an “essential and inescapable feature of CHIS use”, to gain the trust of those under investigation. It has also argued that it enables CHIS to work at the “heart of groups” that would cause the UK harm to find information and intelligence which other investigative measures may not detect.

The Government introduced the bill in the House of Commons on 24 September 2020. Second reading took place on 5 October 2020, with the remaining stages held on 15 October 2020. During second reading, James Brokenshire, the Minister for Security at the Home Office, said that the bill would be “looking to achieve just one thing”, which was to “ensure” that intelligence agencies and law enforcement bodies are “able to continue to utilise a tactic that has been, and will continue to be, critical to keeping us all safe”. However, opposition MPs such as the Shadow Home Secretary, Nick Thomas-Symonds, expressed several concerns with the bill. Concerns included: that trade unions could be targeted by sources; that “heinous” crimes, such as murder and sexual offences, could be carried out by a CHIS; and that there was “self-authorisation” in the bill. Despite these concerns, the bill passed through the House of Commons without amendment. The bill had its first reading in the House of Lords on 19 October 2020.

MI5 and several law enforcement agencies have welcomed the bill. However, several rights organisations have expressed concerns about some of its provisions. This included that the bill would place no express limits on the types of crimes that can be authorised, unlike similar arrangements in the United States and Canada. Other commentators, such as Kate Wilson, who was in a false relationship with an undercover police officer for 12 years, has called for the bill’s progression to be delayed until the end of the Undercover Policing Inquiry, which begins its evidence hearings in November 2020.


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