Whistleblowers under pressure from update to Official Secrets Act?

Under proposals to update the Official Secrets Acts, government officials and civil service whistleblowers could face imprisonment for up to 14 years - a considerable increase on the two years currently in place.

In a comprehensive review and overhaul of the Official Secrets Acts, the Law Commission has come up with a number of proposals in a new 'Espionage Act' that is intended to meet the legislative demands of the 21st century rather than the 19th.

The review itself says: “Given the potential damage such activity can cause to the national interest, it is crucial that the United Kingdom has a robust legislative response that meets the challenges posed by espionage in the 21st century”.

In an attempt to put off both external hackings, in which Russia has been previously implicated, and internal leaks, it continues: “In the digital age, the volume of information that can be disclosed without authorisation is much greater than when the Official Secrets Act 1989 was originally drafted.”

The review also states: "We are aware of the existence of those who disagree with the proposition that the unauthorised disclosure of information should be criminalised. Our terms of reference did not permit us to question this underlying assumption" - thus not making any allowances for whistleblowers.

These initial proposals from the Law Commission are currently out for public consultation, and comments from the public are being taken until the 3rd April.

Pirate Party Whistleblowing Spokesperson Rebecca Sentance said:

"Once again, the established parties are taking us in completely the wrong direction.

"Openness and transparency should be at the forefront of their policy-making when it comes to how the government operates, but instead they seek to tighten the grip. Undoubtedly this will only lead to further leaks, as instead of supporting whistleblowers and staff who identify wrongdoing - so that the problem can be openly resolved and dealt with justly - it will instead be passed to a publisher, as the whistleblower has nowhere else to turn.

"Whistleblowers are the last line of defence when it comes to corruption, and we should treat them as part of the solution, not the problem. It takes immense bravery to put your career and freedom at risk so the truth can be let out.

"Furthermore, increasing the penalty does not increase the deterrent. Generally when someone has taken the decision to commit a crime, they either fully believe they won't get caught, or have accepted that getting caught is worse than not acting - rendering the increase in sentence moot.

"We intend to respond to the consultation with our views and encourage all those who care about the importance of openness and transparency in government to do likewise."

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About Pirate Party UK

The Pirate Party in the UK is a fledgling political party. It has fielded a few candidates in European and National elections, but like most small parties it is significantly constrained by the UK electoral system. Despite this, the Pirate Party now has a representative in local government and is looking to build support from the grassroots. Find out more about the UK Pirate Party at https://pirateparty.org.uk/ or contact press@pirateparty.org.uk

Saturday, 4 February, 2017 - 10:00
Rebecca Sentance
Deputy Nominations Officer
Deputy Leader

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