The Defence Advisory – its role on privacy and the British media

This week the Defence Advisory’s (DA) notice secretary, Andrew Vallance, delivered the final lecture of Coventry University’s Coventry Conversations series on how the controversial subject of secrecy is handled to maintain our country’s national security.

The DA is an institution set up to advise media figures on whether new and sensitive information is suitable for publication or whether this would have an adverse impact on national security.

Vallance was keen to highlight that the organisation tries to create a compromise between allowing and pushing for intriguing information to be published and urging the media not to be too specific about subjects that could make British associates easier to target.

The DA ‘provides advice to avoid the inadvertent publication or broadcasting of information that would damage UK national security’, but also ‘facilitates maximum freedom of the media to report in public interest’, he said.

The DA Notice System has five standing notices advising the media against publishing information on Britain’s military operations, weapons, communications, addresses and services.

But in the UK, where secrecy is taken very seriously and is a ‘birth right’ to every Briton, according to Vallance, the effectiveness of the DA is limited by the rapid spread of information on the internet and because its services are only for domestic-based media.

The internet and a fiercely competitive media industry are the Advisory’s main challenges, Vallance said. These two factors combined create a platform for instant communication from media organisations who want the most popular story or angle, which could leave inside information susceptible to dangerous and unexpected predators; to mass audiences who create pressure by craving daily news and revealing details.

The only alternatives to the current system would be to create government legislation preventing media institutions from printing certain types of information, which could effectively transfer the DA’s five standing notices to parliament, posited Vallance.

The other and more damning alternative, according to Vallance, would be to have a ‘media free for all without a security safety net’.

If all currently secret information was released, which would undoubtedly cut costs for data storage and legal proceedings, would anybody actually take any significance from comparing how many weapons country a, b or c has?

In the modern climate, the likelihood is that vulnerable countries would be targeted from figures released in the press, and so although the DA’s system has no authoritative enforcement, it is a hindrance to any media moguls who may contemplate prioritising the financial lure of popularity over national security.

One thought on “The Defence Advisory – its role on privacy and the British media

  1. Glen Grant

    The reality is that most secrets are not so. Defence intelligence information is actually freely available to most observers who read the right publications, have a sharp eye at military shows or who can follow the very obvious leads in the business news.

    Unfortunately many of the UK “secrets” are not withheld to protect UK security but to cover official inactivity and poor decision making. The recent case of suggesting a that an army offcier was in breach of secrecy rules for telling the truth about Iraq casualties is a key case in point.

    Of course there are other alternatives to the present system other than throwing everything open to the world, but they may not suit the government as much as the present strong secrecy powers do.

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