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Monday, 1 October, 2001, 16:49 GMT 17:49 UK
MP wins landmark battle over MI5 files
MI5 headquarters
MI5: The public is not allowed access to files
A Liberal Democrat MP has won a High Court test case forcing MI5 to open top-secret files for the first time in its 92-year history.

Norman Baker used his rights under the Data Protection Act to successfully persuade the National Security Appeals panel to allow him access to information he believes the security service holds on him.

He says he was prompted to start the legal action after receiving a tip-off last year that he was being spied on.

It is a landmark decision and a victory for the individual against the state

Norman Baker MP
His case sets a precedent for security matters to be handled on an individual basis, rather than by sweeping rulings.

It may now lead to a flood of similar applications from environmental and peace campaigners.

MI5 holds about 440,000 files, 290,000 of which are on individuals.

Speaking after the decision, announced by panel president Sir Anthony Evans at the High Court in London, Mr Baker said: "I am delighted with the judgment.


"It is a landmark decision and a victory for the individual against the state."

Mr Baker added that the ruling was a recognition that it was "improper and inappropriate" to grant a blanket exemption to the security service in its efforts to maintain national security.

Norman Baker MP
Norman Baker: Action on a point of principle
He emphasised that he fully backed the security services' need to maintain secrecy on the basis of national security but that every case needed to be assessed on its own merits.

He expressed the hope that if any files did exist, they would now be made available to him.

A Home Office spokesman said there was nothing to stop Home Secretary David Blunkett issuing immediately another certificate exempting MI5's files from the Data Protection Act.

National security

But the spokesman stopped short of arguing the judgment would have no effect on the security service's bid to keep all its files secret.

"The government welcomes the decision... which is comprehensive and detailed. It will require careful consideration," he said.

The determination does not directly affect the status of any information that may or may not be held by the security service

Home Office spokesman
"The appeal considered the reasonableness of the home secretary signing a certificate on behalf of the security service as evidence of the need for use of the national security exemption provided under the Act.

"As the tribunal itself says, there is no bar on the secretary of state signing a further certificate or certificates if he judges this necessary."

Mr Baker, MP for Lewes, East Sussex and a home affairs spokesman for the Lib Dems, applied under the Data Protection Act to see any material that the security services held on him in July last year.

MI5 refused to confirm or deny they hold any details on Mr Baker and told him that any files which may exist were exempt from the Data Protection Act and did not have to be revealed.

'Unnecessary ban'

Mr Baker asked the National Security Appeals panel to overturn the decision on this blanket ban.

Former Conservative MP Rupert Allason, who writes on security matters under the name Nigel West, said he thought the ruling was a "pyrrhic victory" for Mr Baker.

"Under any circumstances, the only documents that will be publicly revealed are documents that have been redacted, or censored," he said.

But John Wadham, director of civil rights group Liberty which supported Mr Baker's case, said he hoped the victory would allow "some of those innocent people who have had files collected on them to see those files".

"The blanket ban preventing this was ridiculous and unnecessary," he said.

"The Data Protection Act still provides MI5 with more than adequate powers to prevent terrorists from seeing their files and to preserve national security."

Norman Baker MP
"It is a very important judgement"
Elizabeth France, Information Commissioner
says the release of information will be decided on a case by case basis
See also:

05 Sep 00 | UK Politics
MP goes to tribunal over MI5 files
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