Thursday, November 18, 2010


Originally passed in 1889 by Lord Salisbury’s government following the collapse of the prosecution of Charles Marvin under the Larceny Acts for stealing information about a secret treaty with Russia, the Official Secrets Act was later amended in 1912 and 1920. The purpose of the legislation was to provide protection for official information and sanctions against foreign espionage. While the statute, as amended in 1920,  allowed for the interception of all overseas cables, it was ineffective as a deterrent against spying and was criticized for being too widely drawn. Few successful prosecutions were ever achieved without a plea of guilty from the defendant, and in 1940 the Treachery Act was passed in great haste when it was realized that enemy agents landing in Great Britain for the purpose of espionage, if they were arrested before they had collected any information covered by the Act, had not committed an offense.