- Public discussion of the United Kingdom’s defence and counter-terrorist policy and overall strategy does not impose a threat to national security and is welcomed by Government. It is important however that such discussion should not disclose details which could damage national security or endanger lives. The DSMA-Notice System is a means of providing advice and guidance to the media about defence and security information, the publication of which would be damaging to national security. The system is voluntary, it has no legal authority and the final responsibility for deciding whether or not to publish or broadcast rests solely with the editor or publisher concerned.
- DSMA-Notices are issued by the Defence and Security Media Advisory Committee (DSMA Committee). This is an independent, advisory body composed of senior civil servants and editors from national and regional newspapers, periodicals, news agencies, television, radio and digital publishers. It operates on the shared belief that there is a continuing need for a system of guidance and advice such as the DSMA-Notice System; and that a voluntary, advisory basis is best for such a system.
- The notices have undergone a number of revisions over recent decades. Following the dissolution of the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact, a major review was conducted and amendments were made to reflect the changed circumstances. The 2000 revision allowed an overall reduction to the scope of the notices while retaining those parts that were appropriate for the level of threat. The most recent review of the Defence Advisory system was conducted in 2015 in the wake of the Snowden revelations. The review confirmed the validity of the system and made a number of significant changes including a recognition that the system embraced not only ‘Defence’ but also a wider sense of ‘Security’. As a consequence, the title of the standing notices was changed to Defence and Security Media Advisory (DSMA) Notices. The wording but not the ambit of the notices was also reviewed. This is reflected in the current texts.
- The Secretary DSMA Committee (the DSMA-Notice Secretary) is the servant of the Government and the Media sides of the Committee. He is available at all times to Government departments and the Media to give advice on the system. He/She does this by assessing the relevance of a DSMA-Notice to a particular set of circumstances, consulting Committee members and Government departments when necessary. The system is based on the guarantee that all discussions with editors, publishers and programme makers are conducted in confidence.
- Although not subject to the Freedom of Information Act 2000 or the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act of 2002, the DSMA Committee is committed to practising a policy of maximum disclosure of its activities consistent with the effective conduct of its business and the need to ensure that it honours any assurance of confidentiality given to the individuals and organisations with which it deals.
DSMA Notices – Definition of Terms
For these purposes, the term national security is taken to refer to the security and well-being of the United Kingdom, its overseas territories and its citizens at home or abroad, and its system of government Footnote 1.
Person or persons whose actions could endanger national security or endanger UK lives. It includes designated armed forces, terrorists and foreign security and intelligence personnel.
Sensitive Personal Information (SPI)
Information (including images) which could lead to the identification of a person, their location and contact details.
For these purposes, the term cyber is taken to refer to digital operations in and from cyberspace to influence the behaviour of people or the course of events in the context of the five DSMA standing notices. Footnote 2
Widely Available in the Public Domain
‘In clarifying what it understands by this term, the DSMA Committee has decided that DSMA Notice advice will take into account prior publication or broadcast by major newspapers, broadcast networks and high-profile magazines, prior distribution by internationally networked news, picture and television agencies and prominence on major internet search engines or widely used webcast channels. When providing DSMA Notice advice, it will continue to be for the Secretary to apply this understanding in each case in which some form of prior publication or broadcast is involved’.
Footnote 1: To note, however, that it has been the long tradition of successive UK governments not to define national security. National security can only be judged in the context of the threats facing and the interests of the UK and its allies.
Footnote 2: To note, there is no universally accepted definition of cyber. The UK cyber doctrine defines cyber as to operate and project power in and from cyberspace to influence the behaviour of people or the course of events.