Britain Plans to Liberalize Secrecy Law

Associated Press

Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's government today revealed plans for a major liberalization of Britain's secrecy law, which makes it a crime to leak any official information, no matter how trivial.

In a taped radio interview to be broadcast tonight, Home Secretary Douglas Hurd proposed that only information affecting national security be classified.

Under the 1911 Official Secrets Act, it is a criminal offense to leak any official information--even the number of cups of tea drunk by civil servants.

"That is nonsense," Hurd said. "No reason why that should be protected at all."

Excerpts of the interview were broadcast by the British Broadcasting Corp.

Thatcher has used the secrecy law repeatedly since coming to power in 1979 to suppress information about Britain's espionage activities.

For instance, "Spycatcher," the memoirs of retired intelligence agent Peter Wright, is banned in Britain. But despite the government's court battles to suppress it, the book is a best seller abroad.

It was not immediately clear how the proposals would affect previously published material such as "Spycatcher."

The government says it is determined to uphold the principle that intelligence agents have an irrevocable duty to honor their lifelong oaths of confidentiality.

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