IP Bill: MPs Call for Better Protection for Journalists’ Sources 

MPs have called upon the Home Secretary to introduce stronger safeguards in the Investigatory Powers Bill to protect journalists’ sources.

In a debate this week, Labour and SNP MPs including Shadow Home Secretary Andy Burnham raised concerns that the legislation would weaken existing protection for journalists’ sources and leave journalists “wide open” to other powers.

SNP MP Stuart McDonald warned that the legislation would allow warrants to be significantly modified without judicial oversight which risked “running a coach and horses” through judicial protections outlined in the Bill.

The News Media Association has warned that PACE type press freedom protections and procedures necessary in relation to all applications and use of powers under the RIPA and IP legislation must be added to the IP Bill.

This is so that it does not constitute a serious threat to agenda setting investigative journalism invested in by news media publishers, the NMA added.

Speaking in the debate on Tuesday, Mr Burnham said:  “Clause 68, which makes the only reference to journalists in the entire Bill, sets out a judicial process for the revelation of a source. Its concern is that journalists are wide open to other powers in the Bill.

“Given the degree of trust people need to raise concerns via the political, legal or media route, and given the importance of that to democracy, I think the Government need to do further work in this area to win the trust and support of those crucial professions.”

Mr Burnham cited the “plebgate affair” as an example of one the revelations in recent years of authorities inappropriately seizing journalistic material. “Last year, a former senior police officer-turned-whistleblower came to an event in Parliament and said that he and a colleague had been involved in supplying information that led to the blacklisting of construction workers,” he added.

Labour MP David Hanson said obtaining “more support and recommendations for strengthening the protection the Bill affords to journalistic material” was one of the key issues with the Bill.

Mr McDonald added: “We must assess the implications of the Bill for important freedoms and protections, including its effect on journalism, and its influence on relationships between lawyers and clients, and between whistleblowers, constituents and their MPs.”

“Very significant question marks still remain with regard to legal privilege and the protection of journalistic sources. Much more scrutiny work is required in this area. I also remain utterly dissatisfied with the Government’s response to one important criticism of the ability to significantly modify warrants without judicial oversight, something that risks running a coach and horses through judicial protections.

“I accept the principle of the Bill, but there is still a lot of work to be done to persuade me to vote for it.”