• May 22, 2015


The whole world may be under surveillance, if Edward Snowden is to be believed, but in the Isle of Man we have ‘snooping’ regulations sewn up – so that’s a relief…

Except all the local regulation Commissioners (note plural) do is confine themselves to local issues, so that’s a disappointment then!

Anyway, each year they have to produce a report which must be worthy of scrutiny, so the Celtic League Mannin branch settled down for a detailed study of this years crop.

First problem – there is not much detail!

We said it was Commissioner(s) above so let’s spell out who they are.

1) The Interception of Communications Commissioner is Suzie Alegre.

Her report runs to six pages (?) but if you are expecting any detail in there its pretty bare reading. For a start page one is more or less a preamble of the role and the last paragraph is just thanking everyone that a Communications Commissioner has to probe for co-operating. In between there’s not much else except there doesn’t seem to be a great deal to worry about. Well other than the fact that some statements seem contradictory such as:

(In para 8) “I note that this is a slight decrease in numbers as compared to 2013 but is still a relatively high number of warrants compared to previous years.”

Followed by:

(In para 9) “I don’t believe that the number of warrants gives a true picture of the relatively small scale of interception activity that is going on.”

Its relatively high but small scale? We’re confused! However, there’s the reassurance at the end of para 9 that the Commissioner is:

“satisfied (as was my predecessor) that the main reason for the increased numbers is the need to keep pace with technological advances.”

So that’s OK then and reassuring also that there is consistency between the Commissioner and her ‘predecessor’.

On reaching para 12 we’re a little concerned at what we read:

“The majority of the warrants were cancelled within the ‘relevant period’ as defined by the Act but a small number of warrants were allowed to expire without official cancellation due to the fact that neither the Chief Minister nor the Minister for Home Affairs were available to approve the requested cancellation within the relevant time limits.”

However, again there’s a reassurance and the Commissioner goes on:

“I am satisfied, however, that this delay was purely administrative and didn’t have a practical impact on the interception.”

Phew, that’s alright then!

And so it goes on with lots of references to ‘safeguards’ etc.

As we read on para 16 momentarily stirs excitement saying:

“The Act includes a requirement for consultation with the Attorney General. I can see that this has been done in relation to all warrants. I understand that there was a brief issue with the Acting Attorney General’s ability to delegate but that this didn’t affect any warrants in practice and has now been resolved through the Interpretation (Amendment) Act 2015.”

We’re interested in this everyone on the Isle of Man is interested in the AG especially as we’ve been paying for two for sometime. However, our excitement is unresolved as we don’t get to know what the ‘brief issue’ was. Sod it was just getting interesting!

Finally in the ‘conclusions’ another of those contradictions:

(para 26) says “I am satisfied that the warrants issued by the Chief Minister or the Minister for Home Affairs in the year ending 31st December 2014 were all properly issued and I believe that the scale of the interception activity is appropriate to the context of the Isle of Man.”

But then goes on:

“I do, however, have some concerns about the adequacy of procedures and safeguards which I have outlined in this report that I believe merit further consideration, in particular in light of the application of the Human Rights Act 2001. I intend to keep these matters under review throughout the year.”

And that’s more of less it. We’ll have to wait until next year to find out what the inadequacies in ‘procedures and safeguards’ are!

2) The Surveillance Commissioner is Brendan O Friel.

His report runs to… 4 pages… and one of them is a very snazzy cover.

We decide to persevere anyway, but its pretty barren reading. The only thing of note is that authorizations for surveillance are up – for the third year on the trot (echoes of the Communications Commissioner).

Further on, confusingly para 11 says:

“During the year I again obtained and studied the annual Report of the Chief Surveillance Commissioner (CSC) in the UK. This Report continues to provide broader and useful background to my work in the Isle of Man although the legislation is not identical and the scale of activity is very different.”

So that seems to have been time wasted!

There is a brief flicker of interest when we move on to para 12 which outlines that ‘authorized surveillance played a significant part’ in recovering nearly a quarter of a million pounds.

However, as always no detail so how can we judge the ‘significant’ bit!

Coincidentally the AG’s department crop up in para 16 which says:

“The 1988 Act may now be deficient in certain respects. The opinion of HM Attorney General’s Chambers should be sought as to whether the 1988 Act covers communications in forms which have evolved since the 1988 Act was introduced – for example emails or other internet communications. Their opinion could also be sought as to whether the 1988 Act is compatible with the Human Rights Act 2001 (of Tynwald). In this regard, the Isle of Man Appeal Court has stated that Tynwald might wish to consider whether the 1988 Act should be repealed and replaced. It noted that the equivalent English legislation, the Interception of Communications Act 1985 (of Parliament), was replaced by the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (of Parliament), apparently with the introduction of the equivalent English human rights legislation. Tynwald may wish to consider in the light of such advice whether the 1988 Act should be repealed and its terms consolidated into a further revised ROSE Act.”

Brendan will have to hope that none of the ‘brief issues’ referred to in his colleague the Interception Commissioner’s report get in the way of his achieving progress on this.

That’s basically it!

The clear thread running through the two reports is that everyone, the watched and the watchers, are getting on well together. No need for these ‘enforcers’ (as Theodore Roosevelt would have put it) to ‘tread softly, and carry a big stick’.

Still it’s a far cry from the early 1980s when the Manx Police had their own secret snooping guidelines.

Issued by Chief Constable Frank Weedon – 9th September 1981)

Indeed they were so secret that when the issue of the bugging of Manx police interview rooms from 1979-1999 came up some years ago the police didn’t have a copy and the ‘good old Celtic League’ had to provide them with one.

By the way was that interview room issue ever resolved?

It is all so much better now that everything’s well regulated…..!

J B Moffatt (Mr)
Director of Information
Celtic League


(Please note that replies to correspondence received by the League and posted on CL News are usually scanned hard copies. Obviously every effort is made to ensure the scanning process is accurate but sometimes errors do occur.)


The Celtic League has branches in the six Celtic Countries. It works to promote cooperation between these countries and campaigns on a broad range of political, cultural and environmental matters. It highlights human rights abuse, monitors all military activity and focuses on socio-economic issues

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