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Official Secrets Act

Official Secrets Act, 1911. The first Official Secrets Act (1889) was ineffective. It required the government to prove a suspect was a spy, even where it was obvious. The 1911 Act put this right, and extended the law further. It was passed in a panic, during an anti-German spy scare, and on a hot summer's day when many MPs had gone home. Section I dealt with espionage; section II, however, forbade the unauthorized revelation of any government information, however innocuous to national security. In 1985 Clive Ponting, a civil servant, was acquitted under it, against the evidence, because the jury felt he had acted in the public interest. That led to a third Official Secrets Act in 1989, which narrowed the range of information it covered, but made it impossible to plead ‘public interest’ as a defence.

Bernard Porter

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Official Secrets Act

Official Secrets Act (1989) Law passed by the British Parliament forbidding government employees to disclose information formally classified as secret. The Act, which replaced one passed in 1911, is aimed particularly at members of the national security and intelligence services.

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Official Secrets Act

Official Secrets Act in the UK, the legislation that controls access to confidential information important for national security; the Act itself was passed in 1889.

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