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EnlargeSpencer Platt/Getty Images reader comments 48 Share this story His name is now scribbled all over the Web, and the ex-MI6 man who is alleged to have compiled a dossier containing unsubstantiated and lurid claims about US President-elect Donald Trump is reportedly in hiding. However, despite the details being readily available online, the UK's ministry of defence—following a long-standing practice—politely requested the British press to carefully consider the potential consequences of disclosing the individual's name.
In a letter to editors and publishers, retired RAF Air Vice-Marshal Andrew Vallance, who holds the post of defence and security media advisory secretariat, said on Wednesday: In view of media stories alleging that a former SIS [secret intelligence service; MI6] officer was the source of the information which allegedly compromises president-elect Donald Trump, would you and your journalists please seek my advice before making public that name. The guidance was given through fear that revealing the identity of the ex-MI6 man "could assist terrorist or other hostile organisations." Nonetheless, the BBC and other major British news organisations have disclosed details of the individual, whose name and current directorship at a London-based private security firm was initially published in the US press and heavily shared on social media. But such a decision by the BBC and others is a stark departure from the past when publications and broadcasters that received a so-called D-notice (defence notice), later replaced by a DA-notice (defence advisory notice), would often fall into line with the MoD's request in a very British spirit of collaboration. Enlarge / Google quit the D-notice committee in response to the Snowden revelations. NOVA/PBS The D-notice first came into play in 1912, two years before World War I broke out, when Whitehall mandarins decided that an organisation should be created that addressed matters of national interest. Members of the press were included on the advisory panel, and they remain so to this day. However, the makeup has changed a little: the likes of Google representatives have sat on the committee, for example, though, the US ad giant withdrew its voluntary support in light of Edward Snowden's damning disclosures about the NSA. Historically, publishers and editors have largely responded in kind to the frightfully polite requests from the MoD. Members of the committee have long argued that it doesn't amount to censorship from the British government, instead insisting that they are simply exercising restraint with stories that may, on reflection, damage national security.

But Vallance and his predecessors can only gently nudge the press to consider the sensitive material they have in their possession before publishing it. Where disputes arise between the government and publications, Vallance works independently as a go-between to "help resolve disagreement about what should be disclosed" before any legal action is taken against the press to suppress information by way of a court injunction. But today, the relevance of the D-notice—as it continually tends to be described—seems to be slowly ossifying, and we can see this from the decision by the likes of the BBC to publish the name of the ex-spy at the centre of the uncorroborated Trump dossier story, which claims that Russia has compromising information about the president-elect. In 2015, in acknowledgement that it was becoming increasingly difficult to put a lid on sensitive information being shared online, the UK government renamed the DA-notice to the Defence and Security Media Advisory (DSMA)—a system which currently costs £250,000 a year to run.

The inclusion of the word "security" is perhaps there to try to make it crystal clear to the media that supposedly risky disclosures endanger not only military and spook-types, but also British citizens. But, while it continues to try to sign up more digital and social media representatives, the DSMA committee has admitted that there is "no obvious answer" to the challenges presented by the Web.
It has previously argued that the "mainstream media" remains the superior source for news, regardless of gossipy tittle-tattle—no matter how inflammatory or lacking in reality—that is shared online.

Events in recent months, though, seem to suggest that the line is more blurred than ever before because it is far less clear who is setting the news agenda. We're in for a long four years if the answer turns out to be Trump's Twitter account. This post originated on Ars Technica UK