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What is “security-sensitive” research material?

The aim of this guidance is to support researchers who handle “security-sensitive” research material, which may be subject to surveillance by and lead to enquiries from the police or other law enforcement agencies. Please note that this guidance may evolve over time.

There is, however, no legal definition of “security-sensitive” and whether it is lawful to access, possess or distribute particular material can depend as much on the circumstances as on the nature of the material itself.  Research material which could be classified as “security-sensitive” may include anything which could be interpreted as promoting, endorsing or planning terrorism, radicalisation, or extremism.  It can be a criminal offence to possess any article in circumstances which give rise to a reasonable suspicion that the possession is for a purpose connected with the commission, preparation or instigation of an act of terrorism, even where the article is already publically accessible elsewhere.

It is therefore not possible to provide an exhaustive list or description of what might be considered security-sensitive for the purposes of this guidance, and an element of judgment will be required by individual researchers.  However, security-sensitive information is likely to include (but not necessarily be limited to) material relating to:

  • Extremism e.g. material that results from collecting information from websites of extremist organisations
  • Terrorism e.g. material gained through gathering content on actual or potential terrorist methods
  • Radicalisation e.g. material obtained by liaising with groups which seek to persuade young people to adopt extreme political, religious, or social views
  • Government security measures in respect of extremism, terrorism or radicalisation (other than government sponsored research) e.g. an analysis of government techniques to combat terrorism, where such information would be of use to terrorists

Research commissioned by the government which involves issues such as national security, official secrets or military intelligence is covered by existing procedures and is not therefore intended to be covered by this guidance.

Should a researcher be unsure about whether their research material would properly be considered security-sensitive, they may discuss it confidentially by emailing Rhys Morgan, Research Governance and Integrity Officer, at