Official Secrets Act set for digital revamp

Written by John Johnston on 28 July 2020 in News
News

Law set to be revised to better reflect changes in tech and data

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According to reports, prime minister Boris Johnson is set to overhaul the UK's treason laws, including a revamp of the Official Secrets Act that would allow the legislation to better reflect developments in digital technology and data.

According to the Mail on Sunday, Johnson will create a new Espionage Act to keep a register of foreign agents operating in the UK, while a new Treason Act would provide greater powers to crack down on people who have sworn allegiance to a foreign power or terror group.

The plans, which could be put in place within months, would also see the Official Secrets Act given a digital-themed rewrite.

A Downing Street source told the paper: "We want to strengthen our response to reduce the threat posed by hostile activity in the UK and make the UK a harder environment for adversaries to operate in.”


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Meanwhile, former home secretary Sajid Javid said the plans would provide security services with the "legal tools" to tackle terrorism and foreign interference.

He told the paper: "Our brilliant security services will always have to make difficult decisions in prioritising their efforts, but we can no longer afford to treat state threats and terror threats as an either/or. It is crucial that we give the police and security services more legal tools. Too often, it feels as if our laws work against a common sense of justice and security."

Defence secretary Ben Wallace, meanwhile, has vowed to counter threats in space from Russia and China.

The UK will use its long-awaited review of its foreign, security and defence capabilities to push for a fresh focus on the threat to space, he said.

His comments come after the US and UK accused Russia of testing a new "in-orbit anti-satellite" weapon earlier this week, which they claimed had the potential to "cripple" communications systems.

Tensions between the UK and Russia were further heightened following the publication of a report into Russian interference, which MPs claimed had showed the UK had "badly underestimated" the threat posed by the country.

But writing in the Sunday Telegraph, Wallace said the Ministry of Defence would use the Integrated Review, which is set to report to Boris Johnson next year, to "pivot" towards tackling emerging threats in space and online.

"This week, we have been reminded of the threat Russia poses to our national security with the provocative test of a weapon-like projectile from a satellite threatening the peaceful use of space," he wrote. "Space, and our access to it, is fundamental to our way of life. But Russia is not alone. China too are developing offensive space weapons, and both nations are upgrading their capabilities right across the spectrum.”

Wallace added: "Such behaviour only underlines the importance of the review the Government is currently conducting into our foreign, security, defence and development policy – the deepest and most radical since the end of the Cold War. Our adversaries go further, deeper and higher. The binary distinction between peace and war has vanished."

Meanwhile, Will Whitehorn, the president of industry body UKspace, told the BBC that the recent Russian action had the potential to spell "the end of space".

"If you actually fired at other satellites, space would quickly become a field of massive shrapnel and, as you can imagine, that would be the end of space," he said.

 

About the author

John Johnston is a political reporter for PublicTechnology sister publication PoliticsHome, where a version of this story first appeared. He tweets as @johnjohnstonmi.

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