Editors warn that new bill is “threat to freedom of expression”

Stephen Chapman's picture

The Society of Editors has criticised the new Crime (Overseas Production Orders) Bill, saying that it “fell far short” of safeguarding journalistic material and journalists’ confidential sources.

The legislation grants authorities powers to seize information, and will go to a Public Bill Committee next week for further scrutiny.

“There is a blatant disparity in the Bill between the established Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 regime (PACE) and the proposed new system that would prove an obvious threat to journalistic sources. At present, the provisions completely bypass established procedures contained in PACE and would strip away longstanding safeguards against the wrongful access of journalistic material,” explained Ian Murray, executive director of the Society of Editors.

The Bill contains no requirement for a journalist to be told before a judge gives permission for their data to be accessed. There is also no requirement for the authorities to persuade the judge that accessing the journalistic information is relevant to the investigation, in the public interest or is a last resort.

“The legislation would allow any serving Government to enter into agreements with foreign Governments that would allow authorities overseas access to data stored in the UK. There is a serious risk of a ‘free pass’ being given here for overseas authorities to access data in the UK. Furthermore, there are no measures to ensure that access is only given on terms that would mirror the UK’s own safeguards for press freedom and this is worrying,” added Murray.

The Public Bill Committee which will hold its first meeting on Tuesday 18 December 2018.

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