New spy Bill threatens press freedom

The government’s proposed International Production Orders law will further erode press freedom in Australia because it ignores the need for a warrant to access journalists’ telecommunication data.

The Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance (MEAA), the trade union and professional association for Australia’s journalists, says the Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (International Production Orders) Bill 2020 is another dangerous move that will weaken the public’s right to know.

An International Production Order would allow ASIO to access Australians’ personal information that is held by US information technology organisations such as Google, Facebook, Apple, Microsoft, YouTube and more. The Bill would also allow US government agencies to access Australians’ data. An order could be obtained by applying to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal’s security division.

MEAA Media section federal president Marcus Strom said: “This Bill is another shocking overreach by the Australian Government. The Bill undermines a journalist’s ethical obligation to never reveal the identity of a confidential source. If a government, US or Australian, accesses that information it imperils the whistleblowers who seek to expose wrongdoing, undermining the public’s right to know what our governments do in our name.

“The privileged telecommunications data of journalists must not be a commodity to be trafficked among the spy agencies of the world. Governments must be held accountable for the powers they grant themselves,” Strom said. “The AFP raids on the home of a Canberra journalist and the offices of the ABC show that the government can use excessive means to hunt down whistleblowers and intimidate journalists. Our three colleagues who were subjected to those raids are still waiting to learn if they will be charged,” Strom said.

“The government has already equipped itself with Journalist Information Warrants that allow 22 agencies to simply bypass journalists’ ethics to secretly trawl through their data to identify sources. Now this new Bill would allow data held offshore to be accessed without a warrant.

“Australia is steadily repressing the essential freedoms of a democracy. This must stop. There is an urgent need for comprehensive law reform. Warrants must be required before accessing journalists’ data. An application for a warrant must be contestable and subject to review. Whistleblowers must be adequately protected. And there must be a roll back of the so-called ‘national security’ laws that have been passed by the Parliament in the past two decades,” Strom said.

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