Investigatory powers bill (UK) – protection of journalists’ sources and whistleblowers

From an email sent this morning to the Member of Parliament for North East Hertfordshire, Sir Oliver Heald QC…

Dear Sir Oliver,

Scheduled for tomorrow in the House of Commons is the second reading of the government’s investigatory powers bill. I write as a constituent, and a member of the National Union of Journalists, to ask that you engage in the debate and vote against the bill in its current form.

The current draft of the investigatory powers bill contains none of the measures that the NUJ and media industry have been campaigning for in recent years. The proposed legislation does not provide significant safeguards to address the state’s misuse of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) to snoop on journalists and their sources.

Only one clause in the bill refers to journalists, and the current proposals limit the ability of journalists to protect sources and whistleblowers.

Our principal concerns…

  1. The bill does not adhere to the standards or existing protections for journalism enshrined in legal precedent, the Police and Criminal Evidence Act, and the Terrorism Act.
  2. The bill contains no requirement to notify a journalist, media outlet or their legal representatives when the state intends to access communications, or hack networked computers. It includes proposals that would allow the state to intercept and examine the content as well as metadata of journalists’ communications. If allowed, such interception of communication content will kill off legitimate whistleblowing, which, we are told, is supported by this government.
  3. The bill does not allow for a challenge or appeal against a decision to access journalists’ communications, material and sources. If this law is introduced, journalists may never know if their communications or equipment have been intercepted by the state.
  4. There is no open, independent judicial authorisation enshrined within the bill. Judicial commissioners will oversee the arrangements, and these commissioners will be appointed directly by the prime minister.
  5. The government has ignored key recommendations set out by various parliamentary committees. For example, the joint committee on the investigatory powers bill stated: “The committee considers that protection for journalistic privilege should be fully addressed by way of substantive provisions on the face of the bill.”

At a time when the free world is rightly criticising the Turkish state for its flagrant attacks on independent journalistic media, we in the UK should be working to strengthen our open society by protecting journalists, who serve the public interest.