Law forces MI5 to open its files
Sunday Times - September 23 2001
James Clark and Maurice Chittenden
MI5 is to be forced to open many of its secret files to the public for the first time. A landmark legal decision to be published this week is expected to give thousands of people the chance to view much of the information held on them.
An independent tribunal has accepted that a blanket ban on releasing information introduced by Jack Straw, the former home secretary, is unlawful under the Data Protection Act.
In future people will be able to apply to see files held on them by the security service, although much sensitive information will still be held back.
The decision will allow Straw, now foreign secretary, to view his own file, charting his activities as a left-wing student leader in the 1970s.
A senior Whitehall source said last week that the "compromise" solution had left MI5 furious and would send shockwaves through the intelligence community.
MI5 holds information on about 300,000 people, most of whom are no longer regarded as suspects. Indeed, many of the "enemies within" are now respected broadcasters, authors and - like Straw - members of the government.
MI5 uses a "traffic light" system for its files. Red files are dormant and the most likely to be released. At the moment, even security agents cannot access them without permission from a senior officer.
Such files are likely to include papers on John Prescott's activities during the 1966 national seaman's strike; Foreign Office minister Peter
Hain's anti-apartheid protests in the 1970s and a young Peter Mandelson's schoolboy attendance at Young Communist League meetings.
The tribunal's decision means MI5 will have to admit for the first time whether a file exists on an individual if it is asked. The contents of the file will also have to be handed over to the individual unless MI5 can prove to the satisfaction of Whitehall that the information it contains is dangerous to release. Sensitive information such as the names of case officers and informants will be deleted automatically.
The ruling follows a legal challenge by Norman Baker, the Liberal Democrat MP for Lewes. Baker believes that MI5 holds a file on him from his days as a local councillor when he opposed a road scheme on the grounds that it would be environmentally damaging.
14Jan02 - MI5 balk at files being opened
BY DANIEL MCGRORY
MI5 EXPECTS a flurry of requests from people who want to see their security files after a new ruling by David Blunkett.
The Home Secretary agreed that MI5 should release the intelligence files they hold on an estimated 300,000 people, as long as the information did not threaten national security.
Security chiefs said yesterday that they were concerned that allowing open access to files could betray how agents collect their information, as well as giving away other secrets about their operations.
Several of the present Cabinet, including Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, can now ask to see the files kept on them in their younger, radical days. Peter Hain, the Foreign Office Minister, was kept under close surveillance during his time as an anti-apartheid protester in the early 1970s. The Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, is thought to have been monitored for his union activities during the national seamen’s strike in 1966.
It will still be up to Mr Blunkett to allow any individual to see their file. A Home Office spokesman said: “Anyone can write asking to see their file but it is still up to the security services to advise the Home Secretary whether national security is affected.
“The security services are still not obliged to confirm or deny whether a file has been kept on individuals. This is more of a technical change than people imagine. It does not mean that there will be a sudden free-for-all on thousands of MI5 files.”
What is not clear is the right of appeal an individual will have if their request to see their file is refused. Mr Blunkett agreed with the National Security Panel that MI5 had too much power to block access to files. The Home Office denied yesterday that it tried to cover up this change by slipping Mr Blunkett’s decision into the Commons library on the eve of recess.
Last year a tribunal ruled that the Home Office had acted unreasonably in allowing the domestic security service to impose a blanket ban.
"We are not for names, nor men, nor titles of Government, nor are we for this party nor against the other but we are for justice and mercy and truth and peace and true freedom, that these may be exalted in our nation, and that goodness, righteousness, meekness, temperance, peace and unity with God, and with one another, that these things may abound." (Edward Burroughs, 1659 - from 'Quaker Faith and Practice') http://www.fraw.org.uk/mobbsey.html
Security services forced to comply with privacy law
From: http://www.aij-uk.com/ijr/1/dpa.html - 1998
Hundreds of thousands of secret intelligence files held by MI5 and MI6 could be destroyed after the Data Protection Commissioner ordered the security and intelligence agencies to register their huge databases under the Data Protection Act.
The Office of the Data Protection Commissioner, formerly the Data Protection Registrar, has been negotiating with MI5 , MI6 and GCHQ to register under the 1984 Data Protection Act for more than five years.
Security chiefs have resisted the move claiming that they are entitled to blanket exemption from complying with the Data Protection Act 1984 which incorporates the Data Protection Principles into UK law.
These require that data is collected fairly and lawfully, that it is accurate and kept up to date, and is only used for the purposes stated in its entry on the Data Protection Register.
But following the introduction of the Data Protection Act 1998 earlier this year, the Commissioner informed intelligence chiefs that they could face court action if they failed to register under the Data Protection Acts.
This week the Assistant Data Protection Commissioner Jonathan Bamford, told the Investigative Journalism Review: "We had made it clear to these agencies that we expect them to register under the Data Protection Acts and comply fully with the Data Protection Principles."
He added: "We will investigate any complaints - now called 'requests for assessment' - that we may review in relation to these agencies in the same way as far as any other data user."
The Commissioner confirmed that the three agencies have now sent application forms to register under the Data Protection Acts. The application for GCHQ has been returned and it's entry now appears on the Data Protection Register.
The Investigative Journalism Review has also learned this week that the head of MI5, Sir Stephen Lander, has received an application under the Data Protection Act from the Liberal Democrat MP Norman Baker.
In his letter to Sir Stephen, dated 12th July, the MP for Lewes wrote: "As you will know, the Office of the Data Protection Registrar is of the view that the UK's security and intelligence agencies are duty bound to comply with the Data Protection Principles and thus the Data Protection Acts"
It continues: "Accordingly, I would appreciate it if you would kindly now advise me as to the procedure you plan to adopt in order to process this request, and also the prospective time-scale that will apply to this application."
The Home Office would not comment on this application this week. Both it and the Foreign Office, which over see the work of MI5 and MI6 respectively, referred the Investigative Journalism Review to the Cabinet Office.
A spokesman for the Cabinet Office indicated that the government will not intervene over the Commissioner's tough line on the security and intelligence services: "This is a matter concerning the Data Protection Acts and is therefore a matter for the Data Protection Commissioner
From: http://www.aij-uk.com/ijr/1/dpa.html Investigative Journalism Review