What is the secret Third Direction?

After the discovery of a covert order issued by Downing Street, the existence of a government secret is out. But what is it? Why is it being hidden? And what can we do to uncover the truth?

During a legal battle over UK surveillance policy between our partners, Privacy International, and the government, a document was disclosed, revealing the existence of a secret Government policy, known as ‘The Third Direction’.

The first two Directions have been published and they cover the interrogation of detainees held abroad by British personnel and the handling of bulk personal datasets by the intelligence agencies – two areas that have huge implications for human rights.

The Third Direction is thought to cover activities at least as serious and controversial, but Theresa May is choosing to shroud it in secrecy.

License to breach fundamental human rights

We are concerned that The Third Direction may give our Government license to breach fundamental human rights. We don’t yet know what it relates to, but it could be one of several things – including the UK’s use of lethal force, incommunicado detention, and extreme interrogation techniques overseas.

Directions are meant to extend oversight to intrusive covert activities by the UK intelligence services, by requiring the Intelligence Services Commissioner to oversee compliance. But oversight becomes dangerously weak when the so-called rules in place are kept secret and cannot be challenged.

We have already seen how essential this scrutiny is. Following evidence of the UK’s involvement in kidnap and torture overseas, Reprieve successfully demanded that the Government publish – and change – its guidance on working with overseas partners. When Reprieve rightly suspected the Government was eavesdropping on our privileged conversations with torture survivors, we sued again, and forced the disclosure of an official policy found badly wanting.

The British public has a right to know

The British public has a right to know what the security agencies are doing in their name. We invite Prime Minister Theresa May to stop hiding behind this secret Third Direction and have the courage and leadership to tell the British public what her government is up to.