Press Freedom Safeguards Needed Against Surveillance Powers
The Investigatory Powers Bill is of acute concern to the press. As introduced into Parliament it would enshrine sweeping RIPA surveillance powers, which have been widely abused in their use against journalists and their sources, and legitimise even more intrusive powers, without introducing any proper safeguards.
The evidence suggests that when RIPA powers have been used against journalists, working for regional and national titles, it has been for the purpose of reputation management by police forces, and has had no connection to terrorism and organised crime.
This could be remedied quite simply by adopting the protections set out in the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 and Terrorism Act 2000. This would require prior media notification, and prior judicial consent through inter partes hearings, enabling the media to test the applicant’s case, and the judge to ensure that applicant truly satisfies the conditions for authorisation of any of the investigatory powers set out in RIPA or the Investigatory Powers Bill.
These safeguards are vital to the protection of sources and, in turn, to press freedom. It is impossible for the press play its crucial role in a democratic society - acting as the public watchdog – if whistle-blowers know they are going to be exposed by agents of the state having covert access to journalists’ communications records.
It is important to emphasise that it is just as easy, and much quicker, to identify journalists’ sources from communications records as it is from interception of communications, so these protections need to be in place for all levels of surveillance by the state.
The Joint Committee on the Draft Investigatory Powers Bill considered the detailed submissions from the NMA and its members on the necessity for better protection of journalistic activities, journalistic material and journalistic sources and how this could be achieved .
The Joint Committee concluded that:
- The Committee considers that protection for journalistic privilege should be fully addressed by way of substantive provisions on the face of the Bill.
- The Committee recommends that the Home Office should reconsider the level of protection which the Bill affords to journalistic material and sources. This should be at least equivalent to the protection presently applicable under PACE and the Terrorism Act 2000. (Recommendation 48)
- The Committee recommends that if Clause 61 remains in its present form the Bill should make it clear that RIPA and Clause 61 do not act so as to enable the investigatory authorities to avoid the application of PACE or the Terrorism Act and the ability they afford to media to know about an application for communications data and make representations as to the proposed acquisition. (Recommendation 49)
- The Home Office should review Clause 61 to ensure that it meets the requirements of Article 10 ECHR. (Recommendation 50).’
- Yet these recommendations have been ignored and these protections are absent from the Bill. It is vital that the Bill is amended and protections equivalent to PACE 1984 are enshrined on its face.
Unless we are able to protect our private conversations, sources will not come forward to confide in us. Stories will go unreported.
Roy Greenslade, media commentator
Reporters must be able to keep such sources secret. They are the lifeblood of journalism and thus vital for democracy. Giving police more spying powers is a dangerous folly.
The Government will have to look again at the way in which the bill deals with legal professional privilege and the protection of journalistic material. Both play a vital part in a democracy and, so far, the government has not met the concerns and criticisms of the joint committees. On the contrary, the government has flatly rejected the recommendation that journalists should enjoy at least the same protection as is currently provided under legislation covering police powers and terrorism.
Keir Starmer, Shadow Home Affairs Minister
Journalism is not terrorism. A front page that embarrasses a senior politician is not a threat to national security.
Sajid Javid, Business Secretary
The UK's senior lawyers, its journalists and the tech industry have lambasted the Bill. Parliament's own committees have called for significant changes to its powers. But the Government is intent on forcing it into law. MPs must act before it's too late.
Jim Killock, Open Rights Group
The Government is still not listening to a legitimate need for proper protections for journalists sources as recommended by parliamentary committees who have studied the draft legislation in detail.
Bob Satchwell, Society of Editors