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Communications Data Errors


There is provision in the Acquisition and Disclosure of Communications Data Code of Practice (CoP Paragraphs 6.11 – 6.25) for errors.


There are two categories of errors; reportable and recordable errors.


Recordable error —  In cases where an error has occurred but is identified by the public authority or the Communication Service Provider (CSP) without data being acquired or disclosed wrongly, a record will be maintained by the public authority of such occurrences. These records must be available for IOCCO inspections. They must include details of the error and;


  • explain how the error occurred;
  • provide an indication of what steps have been, or will be, taken to ensure that a similar error does not reoccur.


Reportable errorWhere communications data is acquired or disclosed wrongly a report must be made to IOCCO within no more than five working days of the error being discovered (Paragraphs 6.15 & 6.19 of the CoP). The error report must include details of the error and;


  • explain how the error occurred,
  • indicate whether any unintended collateral intrusion has taken place,
  • provide an indication of what steps have been, or will be, taken to ensure that a similar error does not reoccur.



Reportable Error








In 2014 - there were 998 reportable errors (including 13 found during inspections).


84.8% of the errors were attributable to public authorities;

14.3% to CSPs; and,  

0.9% to other parties.


The 998 errors should be seen in context of the 517,208 notices and authorisations.


Figure 1: Breakdown of errors by responsible party and cause.



Figure 1 Error


Errors mainly occur when public authorities erroneously seek, or CSPs wrongly disclose, communications data on the incorrect communications address (45.3%); or data for the incorrect time period (27.3%); or the wrong type of data (13.3%) on the correct communications address.


Whilst it is inevitable that humans will make mistakes IOCCO has continued this year to highlight where more can be done to reduce the number of human transposition errors. For example, we have made a number of recommendations for public authorities to implement measures to enable communications addresses to be copied and pasted between different computer systems to reduce the instance of transposition errors. IOCCO reiterated the importance of this issue in a circular to Senior Responsible Officers (SROs) in September 2014.


Communications Data - Serious Errors


IOCCO classify an error as serious if on initial assessment it falls into one of the below three categories:

  • Technical errors relating to CSP secure disclosure systems which result in a significant number of erroneous disclosures.
  • Errors where the public authority has, as a consequence of the data, initiated a course of action that impacts on persons not connected with the investigation or operation (for example, the sharing of information with another public authority stating a person is suspected of a crime, an individual being visited or the execution of a search warrant at premises unconnected with the investigation, the arrest of a person).
  • Errors which result in the wrongful disclosure of a large volume of communications data or a particularly sensitive data set.


During 2014, 17 serious error investigations were undertaken by IOCCO. The findings from these investigations are set out in our July 2015 half yearly report (see Section 5 and Annex A).


Interception Errors 


There is no provision for error reporting in the Interception of Communications Code of Practice (CoP). The interception agencies do report any instances where they have contravened the provisions of RIPA or where they have not discharged the duties imposed by sections 15 and 55 adequately (see section 58(2) and (3) RIPA) but there is a lack of consistency in the process without clear error provisions in the CoP. This is a point we made in our submission to the Investigatory Powers Review.












Figure 2: Breakdown of the causes of the errors reported in 2014. 


Figure 2 Error

78% of the errors reported fell into 3 key categories:


36% of the errors constituted breaches of the section 15/16 safeguards. The errors in this category can be broken down into four distinct areas and is outlined further in the March 2015 report.


25% of the errors were caused by a failure to cancel interception. These were in the main caused by staff in the interception agency or CSP failing to effect the cancellation properly on technical systems. Because the interception is effected technically at both ends (i.e. at the CSP and at the interception agency), if the CSP fails in its duty no significant intrusion generally results as the material is stopped from entering the interception agency or is immediately discovered by system administrators and deleted.


17% of the errors were caused as a result of the incorrect communications address being intercepted. The majority of these errors are human in nature. In some instances the interception agency applied for the warrant in good faith on information received from a third party, but the information turned out to be wrong due to a transposition or other mistake in the reporting. In these cases the Secretary of State gave proper consideration to all of the relevant facts in the interception application and lawfully authorised the warrant – but the telephone number or communications address intercepted did not in the end relate to the individual of interest.


In all cases the interception agencies and CSPs provided IOCCO with full reports of the errors, the necessary investigations were carried out to ensure that the measures put in place to prevent recurrence were sufficiently robust, and that any erroneously acquired material or data was destroyed.


  • Errors