Security vetting in the United Kingdom

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In the United Kingdom, government policy requires that staff undergo security vetting in order to gain access to government information. There are several levels of vetting which are related to the impact level of the information; "BPSS" is the baseline for all civil servants, but those with access to secret information may be subject to stricter vetting.

Vetting is intended to assure government bodies that the individual has not been involved in espionage, terrorism, sabotage or actions intended to overthrow or undermine Parliamentary democracy by political, industrial or violent means. It also assures the department that the individual has not been a member of, or associated with, any organisation which has advocated such activities or has demonstrated a lack of reliability through dishonesty, lack of integrity or behaviour. Finally the process assures the department that the individual will not be subject to pressure or improper influence through past behaviour or personal circumstances.[1]

This page reflects the changes to HMG Security Vetting instigated in April 2014. The procedures were revised in January 2017 in response to the 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR).[2]

Vettings are usually carried out by:

The UKSV was created by combining the DBS National Security Vetting (NSV or DBS NSV), FCO Services also called Foreign and Commonwealth Services National Security Vetting (FCOS NSV).[2]

As the questionnaires are Ministry of Defence documents the private information submitted is protected by both the Official Secrets Act and the Data Protection Act 1998.[2]

Four levels of vetting exist:

Baseline Personnel Security Standard (BPSS)[edit]

The Baseline Personnel Security Standard (BPSS) checks are normally performed when a person is recruited.

"All those with access to government assets are subject on recruitment to the requirements of the Baseline Personnel Security Standard. This includes all applicants for employment in the civil service and armed forces and applies to both permanent and temporary staff and private sector employees working on government contracts, with access to government assets. The Baseline Standard requires the verification of the following four elements:"

  1. Identity
  2. Employment history (past three years)
  3. Nationality and Immigration Status
  4. Criminal record (unspent convictions only)[4]:p. 5 and 6

BPSS clearance

  • Allows access to UK OFFICIAL assets and occasional access to UK SECRET assets
  • Is required to work in areas where SECRET and TOP SECRET information may be overheard
  • Allows individuals who require it, access to the Public Services Network (PSN)[4]:Annex B

Counter-Terrorist Check (CTC)[edit]

A Counter Terrorist Check (CTC) is required for individuals who are employed in posts that:

  • Involve proximity to public figures assessed to be at particular risk from terrorist attack.
  • Give access to information or material assessed to be of value to terrorists. However it is not designed to manage access to sensitive information.
  • Involve unescorted access to certain military, civil, industrial or commercial establishments assessed to be at particular risk from terrorist attack.[4]:Annex B

The process for CTC clearance includes:

  • BPSS clearance;
  • Completion of a security clearance questionnaire by the candidate;
  • Checks against departmental/company records;
  • Checks against UK criminal records covering both spent and unspent convictions;
  • Checks against Security Service (MI5) records;
  • It may also include an interview.

A CTC clearance must be formally reviewed after 10 years (5 years for non-List X Contractors).[4]:Annex B

In the transport sector national security vetting, including the counter terrorist check, is regulated by the Department of Transport.[5]

A CTC is required for police officers and many associated staff.[6]

Security Check (SC)[edit]

A Security Check (SC) is the most widely held level of security clearance. It is required for posts involving regular and uncontrolled access to 'SECRET' (and below) assets and/or occasional, supervised access to TOP SECRET assets.[7] And for individuals who:

  • While not in such posts, will be in a position to directly or indirectly bring about the same degree of damage.
  • Will have sufficient knowledge to obtain a comprehensive picture of a SECRET plan, policy or project.
  • Are being considered for employment where it would not be possible to make reasonable career progress without security clearance for access to SECRET assets.
  • Require access to certain levels of classified material originating from another country or international organisation.

The process for SC clearance includes:

  • Successful completion of the Baseline Personnel Security Standard.
  • Completion, by the individual, of a Security Questionnaire.
  • A departmental/company records check which will include e.g. personal files, staff reports, sick leave returns and security records.
  • A check of both spent and unspent criminal records.
  • A check of credit and financial history with a credit reference agency.
  • A check of Security Service (MI5) records.
  • It may also include an interview.

Checks may extend to third parties included on the security questionnaire.

An SC security clearance must be formally reviewed after 10 years (7 years for non-List X contractors) or at any time up to that point at the discretion of the vetting authority.[4]:Annex B

Developed Vetting (DV)[edit]

DV is the most detailed and comprehensive form of security clearance in UK government. It is needed for posts that require individuals to have frequent and uncontrolled access to TOP SECRET assets or require any access to TOP SECRET codeword material. And for individuals who:

  • While not in such posts, will be in a position to directly or indirectly bring about the same degree of damage.
  • Require frequent and uncontrolled access to Category I nuclear material.
  • Require access to certain levels of classified material originating from another country or international organisation.

The process for DV clearance includes:

  • Successful completion of the Baseline Personnel Security Standard.
  • Completion, by the individual, of a Security Questionnaire, a DV Supplement and Financial Questionnaire.
  • A departmental/company records check which will include personal files, staff reports, sick leave returns and security records.
  • A check of both spent and unspent criminal records.
  • A check of credit and financial history with a credit reference agency.
  • A check of Security Service (MI5) records.
  • A full review of personal finances.
  • A detailed interview conducted by a trained Investigating Officer.
  • Further enquiries, including interviews with referees conducted by a trained Investigating Officer.

A DV security clearance must be reviewed every 7 years (7 years for non-List X contractors) or at any time up to those points at the discretion of the vetting authority.[4]:Annex B

Other UK Clearances[edit]

In addition to National Security Clearances, other types of roles and organisations stipulate a need for clearances, including:

  • Vulnerable Group Access (including children), as operated by the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS), replacing former Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) and Independent Safeguarding Authority (ISA) checks
  • Law Enforcement, with a hierarchy of Police Personnel Vetting (PPV) and Non-Police Personnel Vetting (NPPV) levels, which are broadly aligned with National Security Clearance levels, but differ in focusing predominantly on susceptibility to criminality

Change of personal circumstances[edit]

A change of personal circumstances (CPC) questionnaire has to be submitted when a SC, DV or CTC clearance holder is "marrying, remarrying, entering into a civil partnership, setting up a stable unmarried relationship which includes living with someone as a couple". DV clearance holders also have to report the arrival of new "Co-residents" such as a lodger or flatmate. When two cleared persons marry both have to submit CPC questionnaires. Forms can be downloaded from the British Government's website [https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/national-security-vetting].[2]

Transfer of a clearance[edit]

National Security Vetting (NSV) clearances can be transferred between organisation providing they have not expired. Transfers are requested by the "new employing sponsor". Transfers can be the same level of clearance or lower. No more than 12 months must have elapsed since the holder left the organisation for which the clearance was originally granted and no more than 6 months living overseas. New completed change of circumstances questionnaires, to bring the UKSV records up to date, may be required.[2]


References[edit]

  1. ^ Hansard, Written answers 15 Dec 1994 Hansard online
  2. ^ a b c d e f "Guidance United Kingdom Security Vetting". GOV.UK. Her Majesty's Government. Retrieved June 5, 2017. 
  3. ^ "A guide to nuclear regulation in the UK" (PDF). Office for Nuclear Regulation. 2013. p. 20. Retrieved 29 July 2014. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f HMG Personnel Security Controls (Version 2.0 - April 2014). www.gov.uk: Cabinet Office. 2014. Retrieved 26 June 2014. 
  5. ^ "National security vetting in the regulated transport industry". GOV.UK website. Her Majesty's Government. Retrieved 30 January 2014. 
  6. ^ "P04e National Security Vetting". Kent Police. Retrieved 27 October 2014. 
  7. ^ National Security Vetting (NSV) Advice if you are being vetted by us (PDF). Ministry of Defence. Retrieved March 2, 2016.