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Wednesday, July 29, 1998 Published at 15:47 GMT 16:47 UK

UK Politics

MI5 holds nearly half a million files

Home to MI5 agents - and nearly 500,000 files

The home secretary has revealed that MI5 holds files on nearly half a million people - but that only 20,000 are still active.

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Jack Straw has also officially launched MI5's Website at and also released a booklet about the security service.

Mr Straw said in a Commons written reply that of the 20,000 active files, 13,000 related to UK citizens. The rest mainly concerned members of foreign intelligence services or terrorst groups.

He said that only a "tiny proportion" of those files held on British citizens were likely to be under close investigation at any one time.

More than half of these were because of suspected terrorist-related activities.

Files facts and figures

  • MI5 still holds 440,000 files which have been opened since it was established in 1909.

  • As well as the 20,000 active files, a further 40,000 have been transferred onto microfilm and placed in a restricted category to which MI5 staff have only limited access.

  • A further 230,000 are closed - staff can use them when necessary in the course of their current work but may not initiate inquiries about the subjects.

  • Between 1909 and the early 1970s MI5 destroyed 175,000 files but this process was halted when the service faced difficulties investigating some spy cases because relevant records had been destroyed.

  • In the early 1990s following the end of the Cold War the review and destruction programme was resumed and a further 110,000 files were destroyed or earmarked for destruction.

  • Jack Straw himself is the subject of one of the files.

    Website and booklet

    The Website contains details of employment opportunities and how to contact MI5, as well as information about the service as published in the booklet.

    In both, MI5 says it does not carry out assassinations or "routinely" monitor the private lives of members of the royal family or other public figures.

    It also states for the first time that it never investigates people simply because they are members of unions or campaigning groups.

    It does admit, however, that some people have been investigated because in the past "subversive groups" had sought to "infiltrate and manipulate such organisations as a way of exerting political influence".

    MI5 also discloses that its budget is £140m out of a total for the secret services of £700m.

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