Society of Editors

The UK Government has extended protections for journalists and their sources to the Investigatory Powers Bill.

The Bill, currently in the House of Lords for its third reading, has been widely criticised by the Society of Editors and other media organisations for its failure to protect journalistic material.

The amendments will now see protections for journalists’ sources apply across the bill rather than just to applications to view telecoms records as was the case in previous drafts. The government has so far refused to allow prior notficiation to media organisations of applications to access journalists’ data nor is there a right of appeal.

Lord Howe said this week: “A free press cannot operate without journalists, and journalists cannot operate without sources. That is why the Government have focused protections on journalists’ sources and the important public interest in protecting the confidentiality of sources of journalistic information.

“Amendments 31 and 76 provide further protection by making clear that when a relevant authority seeks a warrant to identify or confirm a source of journalistic information, the application must contain a statement to that effect. This will mean that the Secretary of State or law enforcement chief and judicial commissioner will be fully aware of the intention to identify or confirm a source when they are considering the necessity and proportionality of the warrant.”

He added:”In limited circumstances, it may be necessary to use the powers provided in this Bill for the necessary and proportionate investigation of a journalist—for example, where they are suspected of serious illegality or wrongdoing or where there is an immediate threat to life.

“In such circumstances, the bill and the associated codes of practice already contain significant protections for journalists and their sources, recognising the strong public interest in protecting a free press and freedom of expression in a democratic society, including the willingness of sources to provide information to journalists anonymously.”

“The Government accept that it is important that confidential journalistic material is handled with the sensitivity that it deserves. So where a relevant authority applies for a warrant where the purpose, or one of the purposes, is to authorise or require the obtaining of confidential journalistic material, the amendment would require the application to contain a statement confirming that this is the purpose, or one of the purposes.

“The same requirement would apply in relation to a targeted examination warrant that seeks to authorise the selection for examination of such confidential journalistic material acquired in bulk. This means that the Secretary of State or law enforcement chief and judicial commissioner will have to be fully aware that they are authorising the obtaining of confidential journalistic material when they come to consider a warrant.”