February 13, 2017

Espionage law would criminalise journalists

ORG condemns one sided Law Commission “consultation”


Reacting to the consultation to create a new “Espionage Act”, Jim Killock, Executive Director of the Open Rights Group said: 

“This is a full frontal attack on journalism, recommending criminalising even examining at secret services' material. The intention is to stop the public from ever knowing that any secret agency has ever broken the law.

“What editor would risk a 12 year sentence for looking at documents?

“It is squarely aimed at future whistleblowers, who would reveal government wrongdoing."

Investigative Journalist Duncan Campbell said:

"It appears the Commission took their instructions solely from the Cabinet Office and did not thoroughly check the history of the Acts. If they had, they would have known that all major parties, in and out of government, agreed that the "mere receipt" of official information should not be a criminal offence—and enacted this in law almost 30 years ago.” 

Notes

  1. The current espionage law with the Official Secrets Act under Section 1 does not criminalise receiving government data,even before an editor has had the chance to look at the information and consider the security and public interest issues involved.  
    Although there is not a specific “public interest” defence to current section 1 offences, they requires the accused to be proven to acting against British interests, which in all but one case has been against foreign agents.
  2. Section 2 of the old Official Secrets Act (1911) had to be repealed in 1989 after it was repeatedly used to try and criminalise journalists
  3. Major changes envisaged in the consultation are:
    1. To criminalise getting or publishing any government data leaks, if the govenment claims it will be damaging.  The previous requirement that the government would have to prove that there would be damage has been thrown away.
    2. To make it a criminal offence for non British subjects, or people overseas to undertake any leaking, handling or publication
    3. To reject any public interest defence.
    4. Increase all sentences from 2 years to a suggested 14 years

See  http://www.lawcom.gov.uk/project/protection-of-official-data/#protection-of-official-data 

and particularly the summary of the provisional conclusions at

http://www.lawcom.gov.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/cp230_overview.pdf