Parts of the National Security Act 2023 entered into force in the United Kingdom (U.K.) on December 20, 2023. The act, described as “the most significant reform of espionage law in a century,” modernizes espionage laws that were put in place to counter the threat posed by German spies before and after World War I. The act “brings together a suite of new measures and further protects the UK’s national security, the safety of the British public and the UK’s vital interests from the hostile activities of foreign states.” It updates the investigative powers and capabilities of the U.K.’s law enforcement and intelligence agencies and introduces a number of offenses that aim to ensure the safety of the country.
Part 1 of the act, which entered into force on December 20, 2023, contains offenses that replace those contained in the Official Secrets Acts of 1911, 1920, 1939, and 1989 in their entirety, which the Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament’s report on Russia describes as being “outdated and no longer fit for purpose” due to advancements in technology that have changed both the methods and targets of espionage. The offenses entering into force include:
- Those relating to protecting sensitive sites (prohibited places) from espionage, including accessing these sites remotely, such as via drone or electronically.
- The theft of trade secrets.
- Assisting a foreign intelligence service, either in the U.K. or overseas, if the activity prejudices the U.K.’s safety and interests.
- Sabotage, which includes those acting under the direction of a state and damaging the U.K.’s safety or interests through cyberattacks.
- Foreign interference, including in the U.K.’s political system.
- Materially assisting the activities of a foreign intelligence service as an undeclared foreign spy in the U.K.
Part 2 of the act also came into force, providing for a system of foreign-state threat prevention and investigation measures (ST-PIMs). ST-PIMS are targeted restrictions that could be used where intelligence confirms that activity that would cause a highly damaging threat is being undertaken or planned, but that prosecution of the suspect is not realistic. The aim of the measures is to prevent the suspects’ further involvement in the activity that poses a threat to the state. Explanatory notes to the act state: “The Government anticipates such measures will be used sparingly and as a measure of last resort to mitigate the immediate threat an individual poses while they continue to be investigated.”
The Foreign Influence Registration Scheme, which will require anyone acting for a foreign power or entity and conducting political influencing activity to enter their details on a public register, is not yet in force.
Clare Feikert-Ahalt, Law Library of Congress
January 29, 2024
Read more Global Legal Monitor articles.