Various Conservative MPs have repeated an apparent cut-and-paste response to concerns raised by journalists about the Draft Investigatory Powers Bill.
The National Union of Journalists has encouraged its members to write to their MPs raising concerns that the bill does not provide adequate safeguards for confidential journalistic sources.
At least half a dozen MPs, including Home Secretary Theresa May, have written back repeating the same line: "Protections for lawyers and journalists have been bolstered".
The draft bill states that law enforcement authorities must seek approval of a judicial commissioner for requests to see telecoms records which are sought to identify a journalistic source.
But the NUJ, in common with most other media organisations, believes these protections do not go far enough.
The union is concerned that the bill contains no requirement to notify a journalist about communications access results, no right to challenge or appeal a decision to access journalists’ communications and no open judicial authorisation process.
NUJ member Brian Samuel said: "I wrote to my MP, James Cleverly, about this bill but I was disappointed that the reply I received did not seem to recognise that there were any dangers to press freedom. In fact he suggested that journalistic protection would be bolstered by it."
Another, Mark Kitchen, said: “The reply I received from the Home Secretary regarding my concerns over the Investigatory Powers Bill states that 'Protections for lawyers and journalists have been bolstered'. Unfortunately, there is no detail at all on the how this has been achieved. In fact, the letter fails to address any of the issues I raised and seems very much to be a standard response on the subject.”
On Monday 11 April the Speak in Safety campaign is hosting an event in Parliament, chaired by Joanna Cherry QC MP, to persuade MPs and Lords that more caution is needed over this bill. Relevant clauses in the Bill are up for debate at committee stage the next day.
Headed by the NUJ, the Bar Council and the Law Society, Speak in Safety campaigners are calling on parliamentarians to support amendments to the Investigatory Powers Bill.
Opposition MPs have tabled amendments to the legislation which seek to provide greater protections for journalists and their sources from state snooping.
NUJ general secretary Michelle Stanistreet said: “The current proposals contained in the investigatory powers bill are a risk to all journalists, journalistic sources and whistleblowers.
“The draft law must be changed to guarantee press freedom and enable journalistic sources and whistleblowers to speak in safety.”
The Speak in Safety event takes place on Monday 11 April, 17.00-18.30, in Committee Room 11, Houses of Parliament.
Those wishing to attend should email: firstname.lastname@example.org.