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Official Secrets Act, History, Prosecution, Penalties & Reforms

Official Secrets Act

The anti-spying legislation in India is the Official Secrets Act of 1923. It declares that actions that support a hostile state’s attack against India are vehemently condemned. A restricted government site or location is likewise prohibited from being approached, inspected, or even just passed over. According to the statute, aiding an adversary state includes disclosing to them a model, blueprint, sketch, or other representation of an official secret, as well as official codes or passwords.

Official Secrets Act is an important part of Internal Security which an important subject in UPSC Syllabus. Students can also go for UPSC Mock Test to get more accuracy in their preparations.

Official Secrets Act 1923 Meaning

According to some, the Official Secrets Act goes against the fundamentals of open governance in a democracy. Spying, disclosing sensitive information, and concealing it are all illegal and subject to punishment. Authorities regularly cite the statute meant to ensure secrecy and confidentiality in governance, particularly on matters of national security and espionage, as justification for withholding information. Governments have come under fire for abusing the legal system to target journalists and whistleblowers.

The Law Commission decided that unless there is a national emergency, no secret document shall be covered by the scope of this act in its report on “Offences against National Security” dated 1971. Although the Second Administrative Reforms Commission (ARC) planned to merge the statute to the National Security statute and delete the former, the commission did not change the law.

Official Secrets Act History

The Official Secrets Act’s beginnings can be traced to the British colonial era. The Indian Official Secrets Act (Act XIV) of 1889 was passed in an effort to muzzle the criticism of British policies coming from a large number of newspapers that had cropped up in several languages.

Act XIV was revised and strengthened under Lord Curzon’s rule as viceroy of India, resulting in The Indian Official Secrets Act, 1904. Act No. XIX of 1923, the second iteration of the Indian Official Secrets Act, was announced. It was expanded to include everything pertaining to secrecy and confidentiality in the nation’s governance.

Official Secrets Act Prosecution and Penalties

The Act imposes sentences that can range from three to life in jail (if the goal is to declare war against India; see section 5). Even if the activity was unintended and not meant to jeopardise the security of the state, it is still possible for someone to be charged with the offence under this Act. According to the Act, handling official secrets is only permitted by those in positions of authority, and anyone found handling them outside of such places or in banned regions will be punished.

Journalists are required to assist members of the military and members of the police above the rank of sub-Inspector in an inquiry into an offence, up to and including disclosing his sources of information. If the magistrate decides that there is sufficient risk to the state’s security based on the evidence, the Act permits search warrants to be issued at any time.

Official Secrets Act Sanctions for Spying

There are some sanctions that can be imposed on if a person involves in doing any of the following acts:

  • The government has designated some regions as being off-limits, so anyone who attempts to enter or simply walks by one of these zones is counted as having violated the law.
  • When a person participates in the creation of numerous ideas, sketches, or computations that would aid the enemy by divulging crucial information that could pose a national security threat.
  • If a person is found to be involved in gathering numerous pieces of information related to national security, such as specific models, passwords, or sketches, or if he is found to be providing the enemy with all pertinent information related to national security and it will benefit the enemy, he will be punished with imprisonment for a term that will be extended in accordance with the severity of the offence.

Official Secrets Act Government Prohibition

The locations designated by the government for the establishment of the military, air force, or air station. Other government facilities include military telephones, and specific aeroplanes or airships are also government-owned properties; access to these locations is forbidden.

The government may collaborate with specific individuals to take control of a location where highly significant level planning, conversations pertaining to national security, or war plans would be created. This location is not directly owned by the government, but they collaborate closely with a few reliable individuals. This statute also applies to any area that has been declared by the official gazette to be under government jurisdiction, and any trespassing into such an area will be viewed as a violation.

Official Secrets Act Reform

In 1971, the Law Commission became the first recognised entity to comment on the OSA. The phrase “just because circular or document is marked secret or classified, it should not attract the provisions of the Act” was used.

Although the Second Administrative Reforms Commission (ARC) in 2006 recommended that OSA be replaced by a chapter in the National Security statute including laws relating to official secrets, the commission did not recommend any amendments to the statute. The OSA is “incongruous with the regime of transparency in a democratic society,” according to the commission.

On June 16, 2017, a committee established in 2015 to examine the OSA’s provisions delivered its final report to the Secretariat. It suggested increasing OSA transparency in accordance with the RTI Act.

Official Secrets Act UPSC

This is a very helpful act that helps to preserve certain information that is crucial for the country and should be protected at all costs; if this information were to be leaked to an enemy, it would make it simpler for the enemy to process and might even lead to war. Although the Official Secrets Act has occasionally drawn criticism, its restrictions have been extremely beneficial in protecting sensitive information. Most people would not even consider doing this given the harsh penalties for breaking the law. Students can read all the details related to UPSC by visiting the official website of StudyIQ UPSC Online Coaching.

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Official Secrets Act FAQs

What is the Indian Secrets Act of 1889?

It was passed by the Governor General of India in council. (Received the assent of the Governor General on the 17th October, 1889.) An Act is to prevent the Disclosure of Official Documents and Information.

When did the Official Secrets Act?

Official Secrets Act 1989 is up to date with all changes known to be in force on or before 02 June 2023. There are changes that may be brought into force at a future date.

What is the Bahamas Official Secrets Act?

The Official Secrets Act applies to all persons in the public service and makes it an offence for public officers to communicate, retain or fail to take reasonable care of information received during their service.

What is the Official Secrets Act of 1923 in Pakistan?

The Official Secrets Act, of 1923 is a law in Pakistan that traces its origins back to the British colonial era in India. Enacted during that time to protect state secrets and maintain the security of the British Empire, the Act continues to be in force in present-day Pakistan.

Does the US have an official Secrets Act?

Defense Secrets Act of 1911 was one of the first laws in the United States specifically criminalizing the disclosure of government secrets.

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