Security Clearance court case ‘may stop applicants from being honest’

A court case that saw intimate details of a Security Clearance (SC) applicant given to the CPS may deter future applicants from being as honest during the vetting process, the Cabinet Office fears.

A review of procedures is therefore now underway by the office, in relation to those in place at UK Security Vetting (UKSV), which shared with prosecutors its personal data on applicant Richard Holden.

Described yesterday by Holden as “illegal” following the MoD (on UKSV’s behalf) paying him an out-of-court settlement of £20,000, the data-sharing was to help the CPS bring charges.

In particular, Holden was accused of a sexual assault at a party on his property in 2017, at which time he was a Special Adviser to the MoD -- a role he undertook the SC process to secure.

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) reportedly obtained his SC file, which includes details of his sexual history, to use against him should character witnesses be called in court as part of his defence.

'Horrifying'

Despite enduring the trial -- ‘the worst, horrifying 15 months of my life’  and being convincingly cleared, Holden went on to argue that his SC forms should never have been shared in the first place.

Official guidance from UKSV for security clearance applicants indicated from the outset that he was correct, and that officials were always going to struggle to prove otherwise.

“Personal data that we collect and process for NSV [National Security Vetting] is very strictly controlled”, the UKSV claims in guidance to all individuals, such as contractors, who undergo the vetting process.

“[It is also] protected by a high level of physical, cyber and personnel security measures. Your NSV personal data is kept separate from other personal data”.

'Strict need-to-know'

Most crucially for Holden’s case, the guidance adds that “access” to a participant’s National Security Vetting data is “only provided for the purpose of NSV and to those with a strict ‘need to know’, such as your UKSV vetting officer.”

On Twitter yesterday, Holden reflected: “I’m delighted that the MoD/UKSC have apologised [to me] unreservedly, admitted total liability over their ‘error’ of their illegal disclosure and have agreed my initial settlement offer.”

He added: “[The] MoD/UKSV admitted breach of [the] Human Rights Act; breach of confidentiality, breach of [the] Data Protection Act, and Misuse of Private Information.”

'Less willing to divulge'

But the now-transport department adviser says questions about the procedures around Security Clearance remain – for applicants and officials alike.

“There are thousands of public servants who go through the vetting process, often working in hostile environments, and they do not expect those most confidential documents to be handed out.

“The danger of people being less willing to divulge information about themselves if they think it would be disclosed in ‘seriously mistaken’ error would clearly undermine the whole basis of the vetting process,” Holden said.

Of the Cabinet Office investigation now underway to ensure that the sharing of SC applicant data does not remerge, he spoke of being “glad” that action was being taken to ‘restore credibility’ to the vetting system.

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Written by Simon Moore

Simon writes impartial news and engaging features for the contractor industry, covering, IR35, the loan charge and general tax and legislation.
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