Australian data retention bill threatens protection of sources

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) joins its affiliate the Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance (MEAA) in strongly criticizing the Australian Parliament’s Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security’s recommendation to support the passage of the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Amendment (Data Retention) Bill 2014. The IFJ and MEAA urge the government to ensure the protection of journalists and their sources.

The data retention bill amendment is the third tranche of national security laws introduced by the Australian Government in six months. The laws, which include jail terms of up to 10 years, threaten whistleblowers and undermine the ethical obligation of journalists to protect the identity of confidential sources. The committee has consistently ignored concerns from MEAA and other media organisations about the data retention Bill, instead opting to review the Bill’s press freedom implications only after the anticipated passage of the legislation in the Parliament.

Furthermore, the Committee report’s recommendation 27, confirms that an aim of the Bill is to determine “the identity of journalist’s sources” and suggests the Committee will allow government agencies to trawl through journalists’ metadata in pursuit of confidential sources.

MEAA made a submission to the Committee, calling for the protection of journalist’s sources. MEAA said in the submission that “any move to increase the level of surveillance of journalists and their sources by intrusive means such as the data retention proposed in the Bill will harm the ability of journalists to scrutinise the powerful and hold them to account.”

Incoming MEAA chief executive officer Paul Murphy said: “The politicians who have voted for these three national security laws are not champions of press freedom or freedom of expression – quite the opposite. They have already introduced measures that will have a chilling effect on journalism. They have muzzled an important arm of a healthy democracy. It is a shameful outcome.

“These laws are the greatest assault on press freedom in Australia in peace time. Together, the three tranches represent a sustained attempt by <g class="gr_ gr_44 gr-alert gr_gramm Grammar only-ins doubleReplace replaceWithoutSep" id="44" data-gr-id="44">government</g> to control information. In the process, these laws attack freedom of expression, the right to privacy, the right to access information and press freedom” said Murphy.  

The IFJ <g class="gr_ gr_48 gr-alert gr_spell ContextualSpelling ins-del multiReplace" id="48" data-gr-id="48">Asia Pacific</g> deputy director, Jane Worthington said: “Press freedom is under attack across the globe and this Bill works to further repress information and the right to information. The protection of journalist’s sources is <g class="gr_ gr_46 gr-alert gr_gramm Grammar only-ins doubleReplace replaceWithoutSep" id="46" data-gr-id="46">key</g> to <g class="gr_ gr_45 gr-alert gr_gramm Grammar multiReplace" id="45" data-gr-id="45">ensure</g> people feel safe to share information freely and willingly. The attempt by the Australian Government to control will only weaken press freedom and Australia’s democracy.” 

For further information contact IFJ Asia-Pacific on +61 2 9333 0946 

The IFJ represents more than 600,000 journalists in 131 countries

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