Letter: MI5 expansion raises doubts

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The Independent Online
Sir: Ken Hyder points to fears that MI5 is seeking to expand its role to include activities hitherto considered policing functions (report, 25 January). I question whether MI5 has the legal powers to fulfil this wider responsibility. This assertion follows an examination of the function of MI5 as defined in the Security Service Act, 1989. S1 provides, inter alia:

The function of the service shall be the protection of national security . . . and to safeguard the economic well-being of the United Kingdom against threats posed by . . . persons outside the British Islands.

It is undisputed that the combating of terrorism falls within this function. The other areas identified by Mr Hyder are far from certain. Drug trafficking and other organised crime do not pose an obvious threat to national security. Industrial espionage and 'firms which do business abroad' will generally not constitute a 'threat posed by . . . persons outside the British Islands'.

If MI5 is to move into (or continue to be active in) these areas, from where is it to take its authority? As a statutory body, it must work within its statutory framework. I would submit that that framework forbids the aggressive growth policy attributed to the service.

Before Kenneth Clarke, the Home Secretary, decides to ignore or bend the express intention of Parliament by heaping more powers upon Stella Rimington and company, he would be wise to recall the words of Lord Denning in his 1963 report on the Profumo affair:

. . . it would be intolerable to us to have anything in the nature of a Gestapo or Secret Police to snoop into all that we do . . .

Yours faithfully,


Department of Law

University of Northumbria

Newcastle upon Tyne

26 January