Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Resurrecting the Official Secrets Act

On Monday the government introduced new spying legislation into Parliament. One of the "features" of the new law is that it would allow employees of intelligence agencies such as the SIS and GCSB to use false identity information and to lie about the employment whenever they felt like it. But in addition to that, it would also allow those agencies to create false companies or charities on demand to front their operations.

To some extent, this merely expands on current powers. For example, the Director of the SIS can already order the Registrar of Births Deaths and marriages to create false records for intelligence purposes. But the new law goes further, declaring any information relating to the creation of false records to be secret and forbidding its release. The purpose of this seems to be to frustrate OIA requests intended to monitor such activity. Except that those requests can already be lawfully refused under s6(a) or under s10. So, there seems to be no practical purpose for such a law, except to re-establish a principle of statutory secrecy. As with the anti-whistleblower provision, the spies seem to be trying to undermine our transparency regime and resurrect the defunct Official Secrets Act instead.