Investigatory Powers Committee Backs NMA Call for Greater Protection for Journalists

A Committee tasked with scrutinising draft investigatory powers legislation has backed the News Media Association’s call for greater safeguards for journalists and the freedom of expression. 

Publishing its report today, the Joint Committee on the Draft Investigatory Powers Bill has called on the Government to change the proposed legislation and instead provide comprehensive statutory protection for journalistic material and sources.    

The Committee said that “protection for journalistic privilege should be fully addressed by way of substantive provisions on the face of the Bill.” It therefore recommended that Home Office should reconsider the level of protection which the Bill affords to journalistic material and sources. 

This should be “at least equivalent to the protection presently applicable under PACE and the Terrorism Act 2000.” The report quoted the NMA’s evidence in support of this call for a Government rethink. 

The Committee also recommended that if Clause 61 – governing authorisations of  interception of communications data for the purpose of identifying or confirming a source of journalistic information  – were to remain in its present form, the Bill should make it clear that RIPA and Clause 61 do not act so as to enable the investigatory authorities to avoid the application of PACE or the Terrorism Act.  

The ability they afford to media to know about an application for communications data and make representations as to the proposed acquisition should also not be affected, the report added. 

It quoted NMA evidence stating: “Clause 61 must be improved, but this must be in conjunction with the addition of other clauses introducing the PACE type press freedom protections and procedures necessary in relation to all applications and use of powers under the RIPA and IP legislation.”

The NMA was also quoted in its objection to the operation of the application system, which does not allow the subject of the application to be made aware of it and oppose it: “While the applicant can challenge a refusal, the oblivious media organisation, journalist or indeed any other potential subject affected, cannot contest the application, the grant of consent, or review of a refusal, or even make a retrospective complaint.”

While the Committee did not accept the point that the draft Bill was unfair in this respect, the NMA maintains that the one-sided nature of the application system provides opportunity for significant injustice and should be reconsidered – a position that was supported by many others that gave evidence.

Chairman of the Committee Lord Murphy of Torfaen said: “The Prime Minister described the draft Bill as being the most important in the current session. It is indeed significant in scale and scope and comes at a time when public debates over the tension between civil liberties and security are prominent. 

“There is much to be commended in the draft Bill, but the Home Office has a significant amount of further work to do before Parliament can be confident that the provisions have been fully thought through.”