Yesterday afternoon the Queen addressed the House of Lords in a ten-minute speech outlining the government’s priorities for the year. Alongside promises relating to recovery from the pandemic and other measures, the Queen made reference to the government’s intention to introduce a Counter-State Threats Bill and Telecommunications (Security) Bill to counter activity by hostile foreign states.
These Bills follow years of discussions surrounding how best to protect state secrets. As summarised in our previous blog, the Cabinet Office first asked the Law Commission to review the effectiveness of the laws that protect government from unauthorised disclosure back in 2015. Following a period of consultation, the Law Commission published their findings and recommendations in their Protection of Official Data Report in September 2020.
The Queen’s speech, and accompanying briefing documents, reiterated that ‘legislation will be introduced to counter hostile activity by foreign states’ and to 'increase the safety and security of its citizens.' Taking into consideration the suggestions published in the Law Commissions report, the proposed Counter-State Threats Bill aims to ‘provide the security services and law enforcement agencies with the tools they need to tackle evolving threats.’
What is included in the Counter-State Threats Bill?
- Reform of the Official Secrets Act
- New Foreign Influence Registration Scheme
- Potential update of treason laws
In addition to the Counter-State Threats Bill, the Telecommunications (Security) Bill aims to give the government ‘new powers to boost the security standards of the UK’s telecoms networks' in order to further protect the UK from ‘hostile cyber activity.’
What is included in the Telecommunications (Security) Bill?
- Legal duties on telecoms firms to increase network security
- Government power to restrict the use of services and equipment from high risk vendors
- The responsibilities of Ofcom to monitor telecoms operators' security
- Fines for failure to meet the required standards
It is to be expected that the terms of any new security legislation will be scrutinised by many to consider whether the correct balance will be struck between protecting the nation's security interests, maintaining individual rights and freedoms, and also Government accountability.
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