Classified information in the United Kingdom

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Classified information in the United Kingdom, now called Protectively Marked Information, is a system used to protect information from intentional or inadvertent release to unauthorised readers. The system is organised by the Cabinet Office and is implemented throughout central and local government and the critical national infrastructure. The system is also used by private sector bodies which provide services to the public sector.

The system was formerly included in the Manual of Protective Security (MPS) which specified the impact of release and protection level required for each classification. Departments issued localised versions of the content of the MPS as appropriate to their operational needs.

The Security Policy Framework (SPF) now supersedes the Manual of Protective Security [1] and contains the primary internal protective security policy and guidance on security and risk management for HM Government Departments and associated bodies. It is the source on which all localised security policies are based and has been made publicly available.

Contents

System of classification

The system uses five levels of classification, supplemented with pigeonhole keywords:.[2] The keyword must be placed in all capital letters in the centre of the top and bottom of each page of a classified document. In descending order of secrecy these are:

Top secret
Information marked as Top secret is that which whose release is liable to cause considerable loss of life, international diplomatic incidents, or severely impact ongoing intelligence operations. Prior to the Second World War, the highest level was "Most Secret"; it was renamed so that the UK and US operated to a consistent system.
Secret
This marking is used for information whose side-effects may be life-threatening, disruptive to public order or detrimental to diplomatic relations with friendly nations.
Confidential
The effects of releasing information marked as Confidential include considerable infringement on personal liberties, material damage to diplomatic relations, or to seriously disrupt day-to-day life in the country.
Restricted
Information marked as Restricted is at a level where the release of the material will have effects such as significant distress to individuals, adversely affecting the effectiveness of military operations, or to compromise law enforcement.
Protect
Such information will cause distress to individuals, cause financial loss or improper gain, prejudice the investigation or facilitate the commission of a crime or disadvantage government in commercial or policy negotiations with others.

Handling

Access to protectively marked material is limited by a system of security clearance.

Protectively marked material must be accounted for in a manner appropriate to its classification level and disposal must be in accordance with the SPF. The act of destruction or disposal is included in the accounting process.

Descriptors

Protectively marked material may also be marked with a descriptor, or privacy marking, which identifies sensitivities around distribution and handling.

Examples of descriptors include, but are not restricted to:

Nationality caveat

Protectively marked material may bear a nationality caveat, a descriptor defining which nationality groups it may be released to. By default material in the UK is not caveated by nationality, the classification being sufficient protection.

Examples of nationality caveats include, but are not limited to:

Codewords

Dissemination of already protectively marked material may be further limited only to those with a legitimate need to know using compartmentalisation by use of codewords. Examples of compartmented material would include information about nuclear warheads, fusion, and naval nuclear propulsion. In some case the existence of a codeworded compartment is itself classified.

Examples of codewords include, but are not limited to:

Vetting

Access to protectively marked material is defined according to a vetting level which the individual has achieved. Vetting is carried out by individual departments to standards laid down in the MPS.

Vetting is intended to assure the department that the individual has not been involved in espionage, terrorism, sabotage or actions intended to overthrow or undermine Parliamentary democracy by political, industrial or violent means. It also assures the department that the individual has not been a member of, or associated with, any organisation which has advocated such activities or has demonstrated a lack of reliability through dishonesty, lack of integrity or behaviour. Finally the process assures the department that the individual will not be subject to pressure or improper influence through past behaviour or personal circumstances.[3]

Five levels of vetting exist:

Counter-Terrorist Check (CTC)

Personnel whose work involves access to locations where protectively marked material is held, in an otherwise secure manner. A CTC does not allow access to protectively marked material and would typically be required for reception, catering or cleaning staff in a public sector facility.

Baseline Personnel Security Standard (BPSS)

A Baseline Personnel Security Standard (BPSS, commonly referred to as a BS and formerly known as Basic Check) allows routine and unrestricted access to material marked 'confidential' and below with occasional, supervised, access to secret material where required in the course of one's duties. A BS confirms identity, signature, address and employment/education.

Security Check (SC)

Security Check clearance allows routine and uncontrolled access to material marked 'Secret' and below with occasional, supervised, access to top secret material where required in the course of one's duties.

SC clearance will normally consist of:

In some circumstances further enquiries, including an interview with the subject, may be carried out. The review period is set by vetting department but ten years is the norm.

Security Check Enhanced (SCE)

Security Clearance Enhanced allows routine and uncontrolled access to material marked 'Secret' and below with supervised access to top secret material where required in the course of one's duties.

SCE is a new level of clearance intended for those that carry out regular work related to top secret information but do not require unrestricted access to top secret documents. It came into use July 2007.

SCE clearance will normally consist of:

Developed Vetting (DV)

Developed Vetting allows routine and unrestricted access to material marked 'top secret' and below.

DV clearance will normally consist of:

DV clearance is subject to review over a period not exceeding eighteen months.

See also

References