FREEDOM – New UK police powers a threat to whistle-blowers and journalists confidentiality

Freemedia160In another attempt to control free speech and the media, proposed changes to the Police and Criminal Evidence Act by the government would make it easier for police to seize confidential material from journalists.

If the proposals are adopted, journalists would lose the right to keep their information sources confidential, which will have serious implications for whistle-blowers who could not be confident that their identities and the information they supply would remain confidential.

Under current legislation, police can obtain a warrant from a judge to seize confidential information, but they must show that they have attempted to obtain the material from other sources. Under the new proposals, the police would no longer be required to show this.

The part of the new proposals that is of most concern to investigative journalists is that they must testify that the person providing the information was free to do so. This means that the journalist would have to show that their information did not come from people who had breached confidentiality agreements or had obtained the material by committing a crime.

In the case of a whistle-blower, the fact that they are ‘blowing the whistle’ most likely means that they will be in breach of a confidentiality agreement, especially if they are providing information about an employer.

The result of this is that anyone who wishes to expose illegal activities, or information that is in the public interest, is effectively ‘locked-down’ and unable to do so, and gives a licence to companies and organisations to further cover-up any wrongdoing.

If the legislation is changed, it will also mean that copies of information that could be used as evidence against organisations would be considered as being illegally obtained if the documents were confidential, or were subject to restriction through the employee’s employment contract, or other contractual arrangement.

An example is when MPs expenses were exposed by the Daily Telegraph, in which stolen CDs with information were used by the newspaper.

The Home Office alleges that the changes to the law are a result of the Leveson report. However, the prime purpose of the Leveson report was to protect individuals from press snooping, not protecting organisations, such as the government, from having their wrongdoing exposed.

Matthew Ryder QC told The Guardian newspaper “The risk is a lower standard of protection will allow the police to obtain information from journalists that is exactly the kind of information that needs protection from the police.”

Padraig Reidy of Index on Censorship said “These measures, if implemented, could have a real effect on journalism, free speech and the entire climate of freedom in the UK.”

With the government becoming desperately paranoid, and attempting to control every source of exposure or free thought, it is not surprising that they want to gag the press as much as possible, or at least make it virtually impossible for investigative journalism to exist.

Control of the press and control of the internet seem to be the prime objectives of a government intent on creating a slave nation, where only their version of anything at all is allowed to exist. Or at least where the public are distracted by reports of celebrities and trash TV – like the Tory rag The Sun.

This is worse than fascism, and is getting worse by the day.

 Follow @martynjsymons

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