License to Kill: New UK Legislation Would Reportedly Permit Spies to Commit 'Necessary' Crimes

© AP Photo / Alastair GrantA general view of the headquarters of Britain's internal security service MI5 , in London Friday Nov. 10, 2006
A general view of the headquarters of Britain's internal security service MI5 , in London Friday Nov. 10, 2006 - Sputnik International
After a backlash from a number of human rights groups concerned about what crimes the intelligence community in Britain, home to the Bond universe, was allowed to commit throughout its undercover work, the Investigatory Powers Tribunal ruled that Mi5 in particular held an “implied power” under the Security Service Act.

British undercover spies may soon be universally licensed to kill under updated laws expected to be unveiled soon, as they will provide them with legal protection to commit crimes, the Daily Telegraph reported, citing sources.

The fresh legislative updates are expected to create a legal framework to authorise “necessary and proportionate” crime by agents acting on behalf of a variety of public organisations which conduct clandestine investigations and other operations, including MI5. 

According to some sources, the new law will not have a limit on the types of crimes that an agent can commit, but it will not be clear how far the protection extends until the legislation is laid before Parliament later this week.

Dwelling on crimes that will potentially be covered by the new laws, a source said, as cited by the Telegraph:

“All covert human intelligence complies with (the European Convention on Human Rights) and is necessary and proportionate.” 

Meanwhile, another source with knowledge of the forthcoming bill claimed it would impose “no limit on the type of crime” an agent could commit within the wording of the legal document.

MI5 has previously refused to say which crimes could be committed under its internal guidelines, commonly referred to as the third direction, as it could mean undercover operations were “seriously frustrated”, according to the spy agency. The latter has on multiple occasions expressed concerns that if made public, such details could help criminal groups flush out moles.

Security Services: to What Extent Are They Permitted to Break the Law?

There has in recent years been a continuous fierce battle over the legality of the guidelines allegedly used by the Security Service to permit covert sources to break the law while conducting operations, with a string of human rights groups voicing concerns MI5 and other intel structures could be authorised to commit crimes as grave as taking someone's life on British soil.

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However, the Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT), which hears legal complaints against the country’s intelligence agencies, last year ruled MI5's policy was lawful because it held an “implied power” under the Security Service Act, but its members were split three to two on the decision. The human rights groups have since moved to is appeal against what it called the “knife-edge” ruling. 

Despite ultimately winning the court case, the government is now scrambling  to try to ensure that the implied power, which originally struck a raw nerve with human rights advocates, is turned into the type of legal protection the Security Service says it needs to freely conduct its undercover operations.

Domestic Security Laws Tightened

Earlier this year, the UK was reported to be preparing a review of the Official Secrets Act and the introduction of a new Espionage Act, as part of its multi-fold effort to modernise spying laws.

The documents were to “sharpen the teeth of security agencies”, as per Legal Cheek, hoping to deal with threats posed by spying operations, and would require foreign agents operating in Britain to register with the government. Failure to do so would result in prosecution, which also awaits double agents, it has been suggested.

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