The Official Secrets Act

The protection of government secrets is governed by the Official Secrets Acts of 1911 and 1989.

The Official Secrets Act 1911 (the 1911 Act) provides that it is an offence for any person for any purpose prejudicial to the safety or interests of the State to:

  • Approach, inspect, pass over, be in the neighbourhood of or enter any prohibited place.
  • Make any sketch, plan, model, or note which is calculated to be or might be or intended to be directly or indirectly useful to an enemy.
  • Obtain, collect, record, or publish, or communicate to any other person any secret official code word, or pass word, or any sketch, plan, model, article or note, or other document or information which is calculated to be or might be or is intended to be directly or indirectly useful to an enemy.
A prohibited place is defined, extensively, in the 1911 Act, and effectively includes any place, property or establishment that either belongs to or is used by the Crown.

If convicted of an offence under the 1911 Act a person can be sentenced to up to 14 years’ imprisonment.

The Official Secrets Act 1989 (the 1989 Act) provides for a series of offences prohibiting disclosure of information relating to the following six categories:

  • Security and intelligence.
  • Defence.
  • International relations.
  • Assisting criminals.
  • Information resulting from unauthorised disclosures or entrusted in confidence.
  • Information entrusted in confidence to other states or international organisations.
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