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The 1989 Act replaced the ‘catch-all’ section 2 and created offences associated with the unauthorised disclosure of information in the following categories:  

  • security and intelligence;
  • defence;  
  • international relations; 
  • crime and special investigation powers;
  • information resulting from authorised disclosures or entrusted in confidence; and 
  • information entrusted in confidence to or by other states or international organisations.  

In creating offences under these categories, the Act distinguishes between current and former employees of the security and intelligence services, and crown servants (eg ministers, civil servants, members of the police and armed forces) or government contractors. For crown servants and government contractors, the Act stipulates that they can only be found guilty of an offence if the unauthorised disclosure is deemed “damaging”. Provisions relating to members of the security and intelligence services, on the other hand, stipulate that any unauthorised disclosure relating to security and intelligence is an offence. The maximum penalty for individuals guilty of an offence under the Act is two years’ imprisonment or a fine, or both. In 2015, the Law Commission was asked by the Cabinet Office to review the effectiveness of the laws that protect government information from unauthorised disclosure. Its provisional proposals, published in 2017, have been met with concern, principally on the grounds of ‘public interest defence’ protections for ‘whistleblowers’. 


Documents to download

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