Ministry of Justice - Prohibited Places under Official Secrets Act 1911 - another 20 days to consider the FOIA Section 24 National Security public interest test

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Our attempts to clarify exactly the where you can and where you cannot take photographs in seemingly public areas, some of which used to be or perhaps still are designated as "Prohibited Places" under the pre-World War 1, pre aerial or satellite photography (or even pre- hand held camera ) era Official Secrets Act 1911 continue.

The Mnistry of Justice have replied, just within the 20 working days statutory limit, to our "belt and braces" copy of our original request to the Home Office, sent on 3rd July, on the assumption that the promise by the Home Office to forward the request to the Ministry of Justice, was not something to be relied on.

However, the Ministry of Justice is claiming another 20working days, i.e. up to 1st September 2008, in order to perform a public interest balancing exercise, regarding Section 24 Natioal Security exemption for some of the information requested.

Surely if the idea is to prevent spies from taking photographs of "Prohibited Places" or the immediate vicinity of such places, then there need to be warning public signs and notices to that effect ? How can this be of any use if the approximate locations which are being "protected" in this way are kept secret ?

1 Penalties for spying

(1)If any person for any purpose prejudicial to the safety or interests of the State--

(a)approaches, [F1inspects, passes over] or is in the neighbourhood of, or enters any prohibited place within the meaning of this Act; or

(b)makes any sketch, plan, model, or note which is calculated to be or might be or is intended to be directly or indirectly useful to an enemy; or

(c)obtains, [F1collects, records, or publishes,] or communicates to any other person [F1any secret official code word, or pass word, or] any sketch, plan, model, article, or note, or other document or information which is calculated to be or might be or is intended to be directly or indirectly useful to an enemy;

he shall be guilty of felony . . . F2

Do "Prohibited Places" still include, for example coal mines or railway lines or military dockyards , which were of strategic military importance before and during the First and Second World Wars, but which have now been shut down ?

3 Definition of prohibited place

For the purposes of this Act, the expression "prohibited place" means--

[F1(a)any work of defence, arsenal, naval or air force establishment or station, factory, dockyard, mine, minefield, camp, ship, or aircraft belonging to or occupied by or on behalf of His Majesty, or any telegraph, telephone, wireless or signal station, or office so belonging or occupied, and any place belonging to or occupied by or on behalf of His Majesty and used for the purpose of building, repairing, making, or storing any munitions of war, or any sketches, plans, models or documents relating thereto, or for the purpose of getting any metals, oil, or minerals of use in time of war];

(b)any place not belonging to His Majesty where any [F2munitions of war], or any [F2sketches, models, plans] or documents relating thereto, are being made, repaired, [F3gotten,] or stored under contract with, or with any person on behalf of, His Majesty, or otherwise on behalf of His Majesty; and

(c)any place belonging to [F3or used for the purposes of] His Majesty which is for the time being declared [F2by order of a Secretary of State] to be a prohibited place for the purposes of this section on the ground that information with respect thereto, or damage thereto, would by useful to an enemy; and

(d)any railway, road, way, or channel, or other means of communication by land or water (including any works or structures being part thereof or connected therewith), or any place used for gas, water, or electricity works or other works for purposes of a public character, or any place where any [F2munitions of war], or any [F2sketches, models, plans] or documents relating thereto, are being made, repaired, or stored otherwise than on behalf of His Majesty, which is for the time being declared [F2by order of a Secretary of State] to be a prohibited place for the purposes of this section, on the ground that information with respect thereto, or the destruction or obstruction thereof, or interference therewith, would be useful to an enemy.

What about former Ministry of Defence or other Government buildings e.g. The Treausy, HM Revenue and Customs, the Home Office etc., which were "Prohibited Places" by virtue of being owned by the Crown, but which have now been sold off and leased back, under Public Private Finance Initiative schemes ?


Access Rights Unit
6th Floor
Selborne House
54 Victoria Street
London SW1E 6QW
T 020 7210 1439
F 020 7210 8388
E [MoJ email address]

{our email address]

1st August 2008

Ref : FOI/08/nnnnn/HD/PB

Dear Mr Evans

Errr.. who is he ??

Presumably this is the name from a different FOIA response letter.

Request under the Freedom of Information Act 2000

I refer to your request for information, which the Department received on 3rd July 2008. I can confirm that the Ministry of Justice holds the information requested:

1. The name and location of any "Prohibited Place" declared, "by Order of a Secretary of State", either permanently or "for the time being", in accordance with the Official Secrets Act 1911 section 3 Definition of a prohibited place

2. Any further categories of prohibited place as per the Official Secrets Act 1911, defined in subsequent legislation. e.g. Licensed Nuclear Sites under the Nuclear Installations Act 1965, or "a site belonging to or used for the purposes of the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority" as per Statutory Instrument 1994 No. 968 The Official Secrets Act 1994 No. 968 The Official Secrets (Prohibited Places) Order 1994 or "any electronic communications station or office belonging to, or occupied by, the provider of a public electronic communications service".

3. Do the restrictions on the right to entry to "a place belonging to or used for the purposes of the CAA" under the Civil Aviation Act 1982 section 18 Official Secrets also apply to photography at Civil Aviation Authority Airports?

4. Is there any other legislation, which creates Official Secrets Act 1911 "Prohibited Places" in the United Kingdom, Scotland or Northern Island?

I am writing to advise you that the following exemption applies to some the information that you have requested:

Section 24 - National Security

This exemption is subject to the balance of the public interest. By virtue of section 10(3), where public authorities have to consider the balance of the public interest in relation to a request, they do not have to comply with the request until such a time as is reasonable in the circumstances. The Ministry of Justice has not reached a decision on the balance of public interest. Due to the need to consider, in all the circumstances of the case, where the balance of public interest lies in relation to the information that you have requested, the Department will not be able to respond to your request in full within 20 working days. In these circumstances, I consider that it will take approximately 20 additional working days in order to respond to your request.

I hope to let you have a response by Monday 1st September 2008 or sooner if we can. If you do not receive my response or further information by then, please contact me and I will investigate the matter.

Please could you provide your name and address as you mentioned in your email that you would provide.

We will consider this, if we have to write to them again over this FOIA request, but it is not a requirement under the Freedom of Information Act 2000, and the Information Commissioner;s Guidance specifically shows that just a pseudo anonymous email address is sufficient.

If you have any queries about this letter please contact me.

If you are unhappy with the result of your request for information, you may request an internal review within two calendar months of the date of this letter by writing to Access Rights Unit, Ministry of Justice, Post Point 6.17, Selborne House, 54-60 Victoria Street, London SW1E 6QW.

If you remain unhappy with the outcome of the internal review, you have the right to apply directly to the Information Commissioner for a decision. The Information Commissioner can be contacted at: Information Commissioner's Office, Wycliffe House Water Lane, Wilmslow, Cheshire, SK9 5AF.

If you have any queries about this letter, please contact me. Please remember to quote the reference number above in any future communications.

Yours sincerely

[name of civil servant]
Access Rights Unit

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