Liberty: Government must rewrite Investigatory Powers Bill to protect journalists after Miranda judgment

Civil rights group Liberty has said the Government needs to rewrite the draft Investigatory Powers Bill in light of a landmark press freedom Court of Appeal judgment yesterday.

The court ruled that the Metropolitan Police and security services were in breach of European law when they used powers under the Terrorism Act to detain David Miranda at Heathrow Airport in August 2013 and seize computer equipment for him.

According to the government, he was carrying a hard drive carrying 58,000 highly classified UK intelligence documents. Miranda was carrying material leaked by Edward Snowden (pictured above) to The Guardian on behalf of his journalist partner Glenn Greenwald.

But the Court  of Appeal yesterday said the Terrorism Act needs to be written to ensure that in future police take into account the Article 10 rights protecting confidential journalistic sources when using these stop powers. Lord Dyson said external judicial scrutiny needed to be built into the process to ensure adequate protection is given to journalists and their sources.

The draft Investigatory Powers Bill seeks to codify a system under which the Government can carry out widespread surveillance of telephone calls, emails and web browsing data. According to Liberty, this bill needs to be changed in the light of yesterday’s judgment to ensure that it gives adequate protection to journalists and their sources.

Bella Sankey, director of policy for Liberty, said: “The Draft Investigatory Powers Bill gives as much protection against abusive state surveillance to journalists as it does the rest of us – none. The bulk hacking and interception powers it seeks to legitimise are indiscriminate by their very nature – they don’t differentiate by profession – and pitiful safeguards mean  journalists’ communications can be spied upon at the say-so of a minister or chief constable.

“If the Government is truly committed to press freedom, it will pay heed to today’s judgment, and show its respect for journalists and their sources, by rewriting this Bill.”

In a separate move, the draft Investigatory Powers Bill requires law enforcement bodies to seek prior approval from a judicial commissioner before acquiring telecoms data which would identify a journalistic source. This continues the protection which passed into law last year following the Press Gazette Save Our Sources campaign.

Press Gazette understands that this section would not be affected by yesterday’s judgment because it already provides for prior judicial oversight.

But news organisations remain concerned because requests for journalists’ phone records would go direct to telecoms providers, in secret, with no opportunity given to news organisations to argue the case for confidentiality.

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