Australian police access journalists’ metadata without a warrant

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) joins its affiliate the Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance (MEAA) in condemning the actions of the Australian Federal Police (AFP) in secretly accessing a journalists’ metadata without a warrant. The IFJ and MEAA call on the Australian government to end its assault on press freedom.

In February 2016, Australian journalist Paul Farrell from the Guardian learned that the AFP had created a file of 200 pages while attempting to identify and prosecute Farrell's confidential sources in news reports he wrote on Australia's asylum seeker policies. According to the Guardianarticle published today, the AFP confirmed they had sought to access Farrell’s metadata, particularly to uncover and prosecute his confidential sources.

Farrell lodged a complaint to the Privacy Commissioner under the Privacy Act. Through the course of the investigation it become clear that the AFP has sought ‘subscriber checks’, which is a request to telecommunications companies for access to information they may hold on a particular person. It can only be made under the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act 1979. After lodging the complaint, Farrell received a copy of his AFP file, which contained a heavily redacted dossier of operational centre meeting minutes, file notes, interview records and a plan for an investigation the AFP undertook into one of his reports.

MEAA has spent the past 18 months campaigning against the Australian Government’s metadata retention laws which seek to allow government agencies to conduct surveillance and secretly access journalists’ telecommunications data with the aim of identifying confidential sources, including whistleblowers who seek to expose fraud, corruption, dishonesty, illegality and threats to public health and safety. Under the law, which are now in force, along with the Journalist Information Warrants that accompany them, journalists’ telecommunications data to be secretly accessed by at least 21 government agencies with neither the journalist nor their media employer even being informed, let alone given any opportunity to oppose it.

MEAA CEO, Paul Murhpy said: "It comes down to this: journalists writing legitimate news stories in the public interest now have police trawling through their private metadata all because a government agency is embarrassed about a leak. In the process, the rights of journalists are trampled on. The public's right to know what governments do in our name is being overridden by public servants seeking to cover up a scandal in order to persecute and prosecute a whistleblower. It makes a mockery of open and transparent government. This news, coming as it does just weeks before UNESCO World Press Freedom Day on May 3, shows the contempt being shown for the principles of press freedom."

The IFJ said: “Journalists have the right and responsibility to protect their sources. Governments should not be able to access confidential sources, particularly through secretly accessing journalists’ metadata. Press freedom is an important part of Australia’s democracy, yet actions such as these and the laws that support them, weaken the fourth estate.”

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

The IFJ represents more than 600,000 journalists in 139 countries

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