Head of UK oversight body to join GCHQ 'tech help desk'*

Hello, IT? Just kidding, it's a crypto-buster spy centre

GCHQ Aerial View of Poppy © GCHQ 2014

Joanna Cavan OBE, a champion for transparency as the head of the UK's oversight body for communications interception, is set to take the top job at GCHQ's National Technical Assistance Centre (NTAC).

After five of the "the most challenging and rewarding years with [the Interception of Communications Commissioner's Office]" Cavan stated she was proud to have worked towards "building public trust through education, transparency and accountability."

Widely admired for her public role as the head of IOCCO, The Register understands Cavan has been encouraged to continue such work in championing transparency at NTAC.

IOCCO stated that the office was "sad" to announce that Cavan was leaving, adding: "During her tenure Joanna has made a significant contribution to improving compliance within the intelligence agencies and law enforcement" and listing her key achievements as "building relationships with industry and NGOs, and transforming IOCCO into a dynamic public facing body."

"We're really going to miss her, but wish her the very best with her move," the office continued, adding that "there will be a recruitment campaign in due course."

Speaking to The Register, Javier Ruiz of the Open Rights Group added the NGO's positive impression of Cavan, stating "She has been a very welcome presence at IOCCO and we hope her advocacy for transparency will continue."

Changing of the Guard

Cavan leaves IOCCO as the UK breaches the cusp of a radical change in the way in which the it conducts oversight of surveillance activities, not least through the new Investigatory Powers Bill.

The Register understands her role as Head of the IOCCO is to be combined with that of the Intelligence Services Commissioner's Office, ahead of a potential consolidation of both offices with that of the Office of Surveillance Commissioners to create a new Investigatory Powers Commissioner if the Investigatory Powers Bill is passed.

Where the new bill would improve upon the utter lack of oversight afforded to many surveillance powers have been exposed to before, IOCCO and Cavan particularly have continued to recommend — as explained in its evidence to the bill’s Joint Committee [PDF] — that an Investigatory Powers Commission, rather than just a commissioner, would be necessary for the purpose of providing a “clear legal mandate for the oversight body".

IOCCO explained that: “The reality is that the Judicial Commissioners will only be performing a very narrow part of the oversight – the prior authorisation of some of the more intrusive investigatory powers. The bulk of the oversight will actually be carried out by inspectors and staff within the Commission who need a clear legal mandate to require information from public authorities, to launch and undertake audits, inspections, inquiries, investigations and react in real time when non-compliance or contraventions of the legislation are discovered during an inspection.”

But wait, GCHQ?

Tinfoil hats away, please. GCHQ is a big and increasingly compartmentalised agency. NTAC, where Cavan is headed, is a government unit responsible for providing lawful interception capabilities and data recovery and digital forensic analysis.

Formerly a Home Office group, NTAC moved to GCHQ in 2006 and now manages the delivery of intercepted communications to the nine agencies which may apply for them in the UK, including the three security and intelligence agencies, the National Crime Agency, the Metropolitan Police Service, the Ministry of Defence, and Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs.

NTAC is the UK's lead national authority on all matters relating to the processing of protected information, as covered by the Home Office's code of practice for the investigation of protected electronic information [PDF].

While it does not itself apply for the interception warrants, it manages the delivery of material that the warrants have been issued to cover. Her appointment to the chief role could be seen as a victory for those wanting more transparency from the agencies.

Want a job?

Cavan's background suits NTAC pretty well, involving both legal and technical expertise, and the vacant role at IOCCO is expected to prioritise both qualities. Her former place of work will be seeking someone who is enthusiastic and passionate about the protection of freedoms enjoyed in the UK.

As an interception and digital forensics specialist, Cavan had appeared as an independent expert witness in relation to forensic telecommunications (cell site - location analysis), and had represented both the prosecution and defence in a large number of serious and high profile criminal court cases before taking the job.

The new role for the Head of IOCCO & ISCO will be externally advertised tomorrow and will accept candidates from both within and without the Civil Service.

If you read El Reg and think you may have some similar traits, please polish up those CVs – this work is only going to get busier. ®


NTAC literally stands for National Technical Assistance Centre (UK tech help centre)

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