Journalism will be changed forever in the UK if a draft code on state use of surveillance is adopted, Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger has warned.
Today is the final day of a six-week consultation on a draft Home Office code on use of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act. It states that journalists’ telecoms records are not privileged and can be accessed by police without need for external approval.
This week around 100 editors, including every UK national newspaper editor, signed a joint protest letter against the code organised by Press Gazette and the Society of Editors.
Speaking at the Royal United Services Institute in London yesterday, Rusbridger said: "For centuries institutions, callings and professions have considered the confidentiality of certain communications to be sacred. I am thinking of the law, medicine, the church, parliamentarians and journalists and their oath, or obligation, to clients, or patients, or sources, or constituents or communicants.
“But a Home Office consultation document – the deadline for entering objections closes tomorrow – has decided that in future the state will not feel bound by these conventions or promises or practices. The Home Office wants the police to feel free to authorise themselves to access the phone and email records of journalists and priests and lawyers and doctors – and even MPs.
“British journalists have recently woken up to the fact that the police have been using terror legislation to work out who their sources are, through metadata, despite the fact that what they are writing about had no connection at all with terror.
“If sources feel they can quite easily be identified by the electronic trail involved in talking on the phone, or sending an email, or meeting someone at a traceable location there won’t be many sources in future.
“Journalism – which relies on unauthorised sources for much that is good and valuable – would be changed forever in this country.
“That’s not something to sneak in a few paragraphs of an obscure Home Office consultation document. It’s the subject of the utmost importance to society.
“Which is why pretty much every significant editor in the country has written to Theresa May protesting at it.
“These are things that are core to how we live and work in a free country. It cannot be for a few security officials in the Home office to overthrow them.”