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Iran Press TV

UK considers adopting new 'espionage' law to counter Russian influence

Iran Press TV

Wednesday, 22 July 2020 5:58 PM

Following the publication of the Russia report there is growing clamor in the British political establishment for a new espionage law that takes stock of both actual and potential national security threats.

Home Office Minister, James Brokenshire, has proposed an American-style register of "foreign agents" in the UK as part of a broader strategy of containing the threat from foreign spies and agents of influence.

Brokenshire told the House of Commons that the proposed register and additional "new offences and powers" for dealing with hostile intelligence services were being considered.

Brokenshire's apparent agreement with the Intelligence and Security Committee (which produced the Russia report) on the need for a new Espionage Act is likely to attract cross-party support.

The Labor party leader, Keir Starmer, has already indicated his support for additional powers by accusing the government of "complacency" and leaving a "serious gap in our defenses".

Currently the UK's main judicial weapon against espionage is the Official Secrets Act (OSA), which was first enacted in 1911 prior to the outbreak of the First World War, and which was subsequently amended 1989.

The OSA is sometimes considered to be deficient as it can only be used in prosecutions where the suspected spy has acquired secret and classified information with a view to transmitting it to a foreign intelligence service.

But in recent years the UK has adopted a raft of formal and informal measures to deal with a wide range of national security threats, notably espionage and terrorism.

The most controversial of these is citizenship stripping powers where suspected foreign agents (who are also British citizens) are arbitrarily deprived of British nationality by the Home Secretary (often on the advice of the Security Service MI5) once they have left the UK.

This power is deeply controversial as the people who are deprived of British citizenship find it extremely difficult – if not impossible – to overturn the decision through the highly secretive national security court known as the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC).

In view of the government's already expansive powers and the apparent alignment of the judiciary with the British intelligence community (as embodied by SIAC), it could be argued that a new Espionage Act is superfluous.

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