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Its role was originally quite restricted; existing purely to ensure national security through counter-espionage.

With a small staff and working in conjunction with the Special Branch of the Metropolitan Police, the service was responsible for overall direction and the identification of foreign agents, whilst Special Branch provided the manpower for the investigation of their affairs, arrest and interrogation.

Operations of the service are required to be proportionate and compliant with British legislation including the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, the Data Protection Act 1998, and various other items of legislation.The service has offices across the United Kingdom including an HQ in Northern Ireland.The service is headed by a Director General at the grade of a Permanent Secretary of the British Civil Service who is directly supported by an internal security organisation, secretariat, legal advisory branch and information services branch.is the United Kingdom's domestic counter-intelligence and security agency and is part of its intelligence machinery alongside the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6), Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) and Defence Intelligence (DI).MI5 is directed by the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC), and the service is bound by the Security Service Act 1989.

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