Digital rights campaigners, the Open Rights Group have criticised a consultation report by the Law Commission, which calls for a new Espionage Act that could see journalists and whistleblowers get up to 14 years in prison for handling and publishing official data.
In their own report, ORG condemns the proposals as, “shoddy and confused, contradictory, poorly researched, and ill-informed on public interest issues”.
Executive Director Jim Killock said: “From MPs’ expenses to the Snowden leaks, investigative journalism is vital for exposing wrongdoing and holding the Government to account. If the Law Commission’s proposals had been in place ten years ago, the journalists behind these stories could be in prison right now.
“The Law Commission needs to ditch these proposals and come up with concrete evidence as to why reform is needed. Modernising the Official Secrets Act should not be at the expense of investigative journalism.”
ORG main criticisms are as follows:
Threat to free speech: The proposals could see editors and journalists threatened with up to 14 years in prison just for handling official data. If they publish, they can be charged if it can be shown that they were aware that damage might be caused – and they would not be allowed a public interest defence. This would pose a massive threat to free speech in the UK.
Lack of evidence: There is a lack of evidence about why reform is needed, other than that existing Official Secrets Acts are old. ORG believes that the Law Commission needs to provide more evidence to justify its proposals.
Omissions: The report fails to discuss the role and effects of the Internet, or its implications in the flow of data through espionage. ORG believes that the review took place as a result of the Snowden leaks but there is no mention of this case nor other significant cases, such as Wikileaks, the Spycatcher affair or the ABC trial.
Poor consultation process: The Law Commission claimed to have consulted with human rights organisations, including ORG but this was not the case. After quietly announcing the consultation report through a Telegraph opinion piece, the Commission extended the deadline for submissions by a month until today, May 3.
Notes to Editor
Over 23,000 people have signed an ORG petition calling for the Law Commission to drop proposals to criminalise whistleblowers and journalists:
ORG’s full submission is available here.
Last week, the UK fell two places in the World Press Freedom Index, compiled by Reporters Without Borders, who cited the Law Commission’s proposals as ‘alarming’. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org