The UK has had an Official Secrets Act since concerns emerged about espionage in 1889 and it has been updated four times ~ in 1911, 1920, 1939 and 1989 ~ with moves being made to amend it again in 2021. Each new version has given the government more protection for its ‘secrets’ and allowance for technological progress in methods of data transmission.
The Act’s aim is to forbid the sharing and publication of Top Secret files, i.e. sensitive or classified details that could jeopardise national security. It applies to all government employees and sub-contractors, including intelligence and security agencies.
It also affects the ‘freedom of the press‘ since journalists are in prime position to publish information that they think the public should know, whether it is unearthed by they themselves or leaked to them by insiders (‘whistleblowers’). This could simply embarrass the government rather than breach UK security, so the Act and the latest proposals in particular have come under criticism for overreach on the journalistic side. Nevertheless, in an age of increased threat from cyber attacks, information warfare and foreign infiltration into our institutions, a regular review is obviously essential.
(Image: Peter O’Connor aka anemoneprojectors at Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 2.0)