MI5, MI6 + GCHQ Exempt From Freedom of Information And Subject Access Requests

The public can make freedom of information requests and subject requests to obtain information about what data a company has on them. It could be a GP practice, a local authority, or any organisation. 

What is a Freedom of Information request? Freedom of information (FOI) grants you the right to request information from any public sector organisation. The right to request information is available to everyone. Under data protection legislation, you may also request information about yourself. Some organisations, however, do not accept FOI or SAR requests.

According to the Information Commission Office (ICO), GCHQ, MI5, and MI6 are not permitted to respond to Freedom of Information Requests (FOIs) or Subject Access Requests (SAR). The MI5 website states, “FOIA allows members of the public to request access to information held by public authorities. MI5, along with the other security and intelligence agencies, is not subject to FOIA. For further information on FOIA, please refer to the ICO website.”

While it is important to protect national security, is the public entitled to access their personal information through the human rights act? I contacted the Information Commissioner’s Office to determine whether the legislation had changed. The ICO confirmed that British intelligence services are exempt from FOI requests. Information held by the security services had come under scrutiny regarding public access. According to an article published online in 2016, GCHQ may be required to comply with human rights legislation when responding to freedom of information requests.

According to the Campaign for Freedom of Information, the ruling may also impose a new disclosure obligation on public bodies not currently subject to the Freedom of Information Act, such as GCHQ and the National Crime Agency, as well as electoral registration officers, as long as the information is sought for public benefit.

As a result of my search, I contacted a human rights law firm in London. I asked whether an individual has the right to request access to personal information under human rights laws. It was not as simple as that, according to the law firm and I was advised to send them an email so they could investigate further.

British intelligence services have been accused of harassing and detaining several individuals and violating their human rights. People who have been wrongfully accused may be placed on a watch list by the security services. Under these circumstances, shouldn’t the right to obtain access to personal information exist?

More to follow…

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