LONDON – British intelligence and police units are using children in undercover operations in a drive to expose terrorists, criminal gangs and drug dealers amid a nationwide rise in violent crime.
A House of Lords committee revealed the practice last week after reviewing the government’s new draft of legislation that seeks to extend the period for which youths under the age of 18 are authorized to work as a “covert human intelligence source.”
“We are concerned that enabling a young person to participate in covert activity for an extended period of time may expose them to increased risks to their mental and physical welfare,” the House of Lords secondary legislation scrutiny committee said in a report released July 12.
The committee said the explanatory memorandum accompanying the legislation failed to explain how the authorizing officer would weigh the intelligence benefits of extending the participation of juveniles in covert operations against the potential negative effects on the children.
The report also questioned the Home Office’s rationale for differentiating the treatment of the youths according to age.
“We note that this order requires those sources under 16 to have an appropriate adult ‘qualified to represent the interests of the source’ present at any meetings with their handler,” the report noted. “How are the interests of 16- to 18-year-olds to be protected?”
In correspondence with the committee, the Home Office said that extending the authorization period would alleviate administrative burdens that have had the “unintended consequence” of rushing youths to carry out tasks before the period ends.