Hacked Off and other free expression campaigners have called for changes to the government’s counter terror bill in an open letter published today in the Financial Times. Kate Goold, the lawyer who acted for David Miranda who was detained at Heathrow Airport in 2013 because he was suspected of carrying files related to the NSA scandal, has added her name to the letter – joining Hacked Off and a number of other advocates for journalists’ protections and press freedoms.
The Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Bill, in its current form, would permit officers at borders to question anyone to determine if they may commit a “hostile act” – without grounds for suspicion – and seize goods for examination. There is no special protection for material which may be used for journalism or that may identify a journalistic source at the point it is requested or seized.
Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb has tabled an amendment to the bill, for debate on Monday December 17th, which would exempt journalists from the provisions.
Hacked Off Director of Policy Nathan Sparkes said:
“The government claim to be supportive of press freedom, yet this bill would allow journalists to be held at borders and forced to hand over confidential information – without grounds for suspecting any wrongdoing.
“Journalists often need to travel across borders in possession of highly sensitive documents or information for publication. If this bill is not amended, it will put investigative journalism into serious jeopardy while also making it more dangerous for people to come forward about abuses of power. Journalists must be allowed to carry out their work without fear of confidential journalistic material or the identity of their sources being exposed.
“The government should change course immediately, and ensure journalists and their sources are adequately protected from these provisions.”
Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb, who has tabled an amendment to the bill said:
“This bill in its current form has profoundly dangerous consequences for freedom of expression. It has highly intrusive new powers which will allow border guards to confiscate journalists’ privileged material.
The Government has already listened to some of our concerns and made amendments to other parts of the Bill to protect journalists. They must listen again.“
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Hacked Off is the campaign for a free and accountable press, and we work with the victims of press abuse to achieve those aims.
Government’s Counter-Terror Bill is a serious threat to press freedom.
Free expression campaigners call for reforms to the bill.
In 2013 David Miranda was detained at Heathrow Airport for nine hours while his belongings were seized and examined.
Why? Because as the partner of Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald, the government believed he may have been carrying information relating to Greenwald’s coverage of the NSA scandal.
Shockingly, it remains lawful for individuals to be stopped at a British border and forced to answer questions and provide information – even if doing so compromises confidential journalistic information.
The consequences of this are severe for freedom of expression.
There are journalists across the world operating in hostile environments. When they come to possess sensitive information about the unethical activities of the wealthy, the powerful, or even governments – such as in the case of the NSA files – they put themselves at great risk.
They take that risk to serve the public, by publishing information we have a right to know, but which has been deliberately concealed.
Without protection from these border powers, journalists are compelled to handover any and all information requested of them when passing through.
Perhaps even more seriously, documents or information could expose the identity of a journalist’s confidential source. In certain parts of the world, sources risk their lives to pass on information to journalists about the corrupt or unethical practices of governments and businesses. Not protecting sources from disclosure could limit the ability of the press to hold power to account.
David Miranda’s claim against the Government found that this law was incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights because it did not properly recognise the need to protect journalistic material from disclosure.
The government’s new Counter Terrorism and Border Security Bill is presently being scrutinized in the House of Lords. It extends these powers, yet it fails to introduce protections to prevent journalistic material from being requested or seized. Officers do not even need grounds to suspect the journalist of hostile activity to demand any information, belongings or documents.
These laws threaten journalists, their sources and the public interest journalism they yield.
The Government are eager to talk up their support for newspaper publishing corporations. But when it comes to the welfare and freedom of working journalists, this bill shows they are the enemies of press freedom.
An amendment to the bill is being supported by Baroness Jones and other Peers, which would protect journalists from these dangerous provisions.
The Government must take these concerns seriously and ensure investigative journalism is protected in the bill.
Kate Goold, lawyer who acted for David Miranda
The Hacked Off Campaign
The Media Reform Coalition
Byline News & Media
Mary Fitzgerald, editor-in-chief, Open Democracy
Dr Sally Broughton-Micova, Lecturer in Communications Policy and Politics, University of East Anglia
James Curran, Professor of Communications, Goldsmiths University London
Natalie Fenton, Professor in Media and Communications, Goldsmiths University of London
Des Freedman, Professor of Media and Communications, Goldsmiths University of London
Ivor Gaber, Professor of Political Journalism, University of Sussex
Jonathan Hardy, Professor of Media and Communications, University of East London
Julian Petley, Professor of Journalism, Brunel University
Angela Phillips, Professor of Journalism, Goldsmiths University of London
Dr Justin Schlosberg, Senior Lecturer in Journalism and Media, Birkbeck, London University
Jean Seaton, Professor of Media History, University of Westminster, and official historian of the BBC