Spy Kids: New intelligence law allows CHILDREN to work as secret agents for local councils, anti-fraud bodies and even the gambling watchdog – and even shop their own parents

  • Police and security services among those who will be allowed to use under-18s 
  • But many other public bodies are also on the list of those with permission
  • They include local councils, Gambling Commission and Food Standards Agency

Scores of Government bodies, the armed forces and even the gambling regulator will legally be allowed to use child spies – including against their parents.

Police and the security services are among those who will be allowed to use under-18s as covert human intelligence sources (CHIS) under ‘exceptional circumstances’ according to official documents.

But guidance for the Covert Intelligence Bill, currently going through the Lords, outlines other public bodies who will be allowed to employ them as undercover agents.

As well as police, MI5, MI6 and the National Crime Agency, they include the Gambling Commission, county and district councils, the Environment Agency and the Food Standards Agency.

The document, which has been published online, prohibits those under 16 from being used to inform on their parents or guardians.

But it permits the use of older teenagers to be used against their own family under special circumstances.

‘In other cases, authorisations should not be granted unless the special provisions, contained within the Juveniles Order are satisfied,’ it notes.

‘A CHIS aged 16 or 17 years old should only be deployed to gather evidence against their parents or any person who has parental responsibility for them where careful consideration has been given to whether the authorisation is justified in light of that fact. In such instances the rationale must be documented by the public authority.’

Anne Longfield, the children’s commissioner, called for the use of child spies to be banned. 

‘I remain to be convinced that there is ever an appropriate situation in which a child should be used as a CHIS,’ she told the Telegraph.

‘This practice is not in the best interests of the child.’

Anne Longfield, the children’s commissioner, called for the use of child spies to be banned.

As well as police, MI5, MI6 (London headquarters pictured) and the National Crime Agency, the list of agencies includes the Gambling Commission, county and district councils, the Environment Agency and the Food Standards Agency.

The bill has already drawn heavy criticism as it passes through Parliament. In October security minister James Brokenshire was forced to confirm adult undercover agents will not be given a ‘licence to kill’.

Several MPs raised concerns over the scope of the Bill and the Government’s unwillingness to specify a list of the limits in the legislation, which aims to protect undercover operatives from prosecution if they are forced to break the law on operations.  

The senior minister assured the House that the bill’s powers are contained in the Human Rights Act and include the right to life, prohibition of torture, and prohibition of subjecting someone to inhuman or degrading treatment.

Keir Starmer also faced a Labour rebellion after he refused to allow MPs to vote against the law in the Commons.

He ordered his party to abstain instead, sparking the resignations, with 34 Labour MPs in total opposing it at its third reading.

The guidance for the use of the new law states: ‘Juveniles should only be authorised to act as a CHIS in exceptional circumstances. The need to safeguard and promote the best interests of the juvenile is a primary consideration in all juvenile CHIS operations, both when deciding whether to authorise activity and during any subsequent conduct of the operation. 

‘Each public authority that authorises juvenile CHIS should have its own guidance, policies and procedures in place to safeguard and promote the best interests of a juvenile CHIS.’

Jennifer Twite, head of strategic litigation at the charity Just for Kids Law, said: ‘While we welcome the additional safeguards which have been introduced for 16 and 17-year-olds in relation to being asked to give information against their parents or care givers, these don’t go far enough. 

‘It’s still hugely problematic that children aged 16 and 17 aren’t afforded the same protection as under-16s. Children have a fundamentally different relationship with their parents before and after turning 18 – at 16 or 17 years old, you’re still likely to be in education or training and be living with and financially dependent on your parents. Sixteen and 17 year olds are still children and must be treated as such.

‘We’re also concerned that the numerous public authorities who can use children as a CHIS won’t have the appropriate resources to support children or the expertise to undertake proper risk assessments to evaluate the danger they may be putting children in. 

‘We know children are put at great risk in these circumstances which can also leave them traumatised and scarred for life. We want the Home Office to go further and amend the regulations following its consultation to ensure that no child is ever placed in harms’ way by the police or any other public authority.’

Who is allowed to use under-18s as undercover agents?  

All UK civilian police forces

Ministry of Defence Police

Royal Navy Police

Royal Military Police

Royal Air Force Police

British Transport Police

National Crime Agency

Serious Fraud Office

The Security Service (MI5)

The Secret Intelligence Service (MI6)

The Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ)

The Royal Navy

The Army

The Royal Air Force

HM Revenue and Customs

 DEFRA Investigation Services

Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science  

Marine Management Organisation 

The Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency

Home Office

Ministry of Justice

Northern Ireland Prison Service 

The Insolvency Service 

Welsh Government

Any county council or district council in England, London boroughs, The City of London in its capacity as a local authority, the Council of the Isles of Scilly, and any county council or borough council in Wales

Environment Agency

The Prudential Regulation Authority

Competition and Markets Authority

Financial Conduct Authority

Food Standards Agency

The Gambling Commission

Health and Safety Executive

 

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