The Campaign is urging peers to amend the National Security Bill which has its second reading in the House of Lords today.
We are concerned that the bill creates a series of widely drafted offences which may be committed by people who are not involved in terrorism, espionage or other activities hostile to the UK. These offences may be committed by civil society organisations which receive some funding from friendly governments for international work on environmental, human rights, press freedom, asylum, aid or other issues. They may also be committed by journalists working for other countries’ state broacasters. If their activities involve the use of information which they should have realised is restricted in any way (it need not be classified) and it prejudices what the government considers to be the UK’s interests, they may commit an offence for which the maximum penalty is life imprisonment. We think this is disproportionate and oppressive.
Other offences may be committed by those with no foreign government funding, if they should have realised that their conduct may materially assist a foreign intelligence service. The offence in the bill does not depend on the use of leaked information and may be committed by using lawfully published information in a way that might assist a foreign intelligence service. This might occur even if person’s actual purpose is to identify failings by the UK’s security and intelligence agencies.
We think the extremely wide scope of these offences requires the provision of a public interest defence. The Law Commission, on whose work the bill is largely based, proposed that there should be such a defence under the 1989 Official Secrets Act. We think a public interest defence should cover offences under both the National Security Bill and the 1989 Act.
Our detailed briefing for peers is here https://www.cfoi.org.uk/2022/12/campaign-urges-peers-to-amend-national-security-bill/
We’ve tweeted this morning https://twitter.com/CampaignFoI/status/1600067706182455296?s=20&t=KzilkOQSj_wXP-OdGG5LFw