Journalists will face jail over spy leaks under new security laws

17th Jul 2014

Australian Lawyers Alliance spokesman Greg Barns has been quoted in today’s Guardian about the proposed strengthening of national security laws against whistleblowers, saying the “troubling” legislation could be used to prosecute and jail journalists who reported on information they received about special intelligence operations.

“I thought the Snowden clause [in the bill] was bad enough but this takes the Snowden clause and makes it a Snowden/Assange/Guardian/New York Times clause,” Mr Barns said.

“It’s an unprecedented clause which would capture the likes of Wikileaks, the Guardian, the New York Times, and any other media organisation that reports on such material.”

Mr Barns, who has worked on terrorism cases and has also advised Wikileaks, said ASIO could secretly declare many future cases to be special intelligence operations. This would trigger the option to prosecute journalists who subsequently discover and report on aspects of those operations.

He said it would be easy for ASIO to declare special intelligence operations because it simply required the security director-general or deputy director-general to approve.

“Their own boss says, ‘I think we better call this a special intelligence operation, don’t you?’ ‘Yes, sir,’ close it down. The more you talk about it the more outrageous it becomes,” Mr Barns said.

Mr Barns said operations in which ASIO officers broke laws were the very ones that the community may regard as abuses of power. He argued Mr Brandis wanted powers not available to governments in the UK and the US where citizens enjoyed greater protections for freedom of speech.

“In Australia we lack that fundamental human rights protection and therefore Brandis can get away with inserting a clause into a bill which you wouldn’t be able to do in the UK or in the US,” Mr Barns said.

“It’s the sort of clause you’d expect to see in Russia or in China and in other authoritarian states but you don’t expect to see it in a democracy. I hope the Senate rejects it because it takes the law further than in jurisdictions which are similar to Australia.”

You can read the full story here.

Tags: police powers terrorism