Statement by the Rt. Hon. Jack Straw,
Concerning Files on Individuals
Held by the U.K. Security Service (MI5)
Hansard, 29 July 1998, columns 251-52

Ms Christine Russell: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will provide further information about files held by the Security Service; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Straw: During an adjournment debate in this House on 25 February 1998, Official Report, columns 341-48, I undertook to make an announcement, before the summer recess, on the subject of the Security Service's file holdings and on the Service's file destruction programme. I now fulfil that commitment. I do so having consulted the Director General of the Security Service, and having been advised by him that the information which I shall be revealing for the first time today may be disclosed without detriment to the requirements of national security or to the operational effectiveness of the Service.

The Security Service currently holds in total about 440,000 files which have been opened at some time since its establishment in 1909. Of these, approximately 35,000 files relate to Service administration, policy and staff. A further 40,000 concern subjects and organisations studied by the Service. About 75,000 files relate to people or groups of people who have never been investigated by the Service, such as those who have received protective security advice. This leaves about 290,000 files relating to individuals who, at some time during the last 90 years, may have been the subject of Security Service inquiry or investigation. Of this 290,000, some 40,000 have been reduced to microfilm and placed in a restricted category to which Security Service staff have access only for specific research purposes. A further 230,000 files are closed so that Security Service officers may use them where necessary in the course of their current work, but may not make inquiries about the subjects of the files.

It will be apparent that only a small proportion of the Security Service's file holdings relate to individuals who may be under current investigation by the Service. The number of files which fall within that category is around 20,000. Of that number, about one third relate to foreign nationals--typically, members or associates of foreign intelligence services or terrorist groups. This leaves in the order of 13,000 active files on United Kingdom citizens. To place it in context, this compares with about 5.7 million records on individuals on the Police National Computer. It represents about 3/100ths of one per cent. of the current adult population, and only a tiny proportion of the 13,000 are likely ever to be under close investigation at any one time.

Of those 13,000 files, more than half are for individuals who have come to the Service's attention in a terrorist related context, while the remainder relate to the Service's other fields of investigation, such as espionage, proliferation and serious crime. A proportion of these files are for individuals who are co-operating with the Service against these threats to national security. Following the collapse of Soviet Communism and the decline in the threat from subversive groups, the Service scaled down its counter-subversion work over a number of years to the point where it is no longer running any investigations in the field of subversion.

Detailed criteria govern the opening of files on individuals and organisations. These criteria specify the circumstances in which opening a file and initiating inquiries are justified within the terms of the Service's statutory functions. They are kept under continual review and are formally checked on an annual basis for currency, relevance and propriety.

[The Rt. Hon. Jack Straw's statement continues for
two more columns on the subject of the destruction of files.]

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