New Aussie Security Laws Would Jail Journalists For Reporting On Snowden-Style Leaks

It's no secret that the Government wants to give Australian spooks more power to catch bad guys. With plans like data retention and enhanced surveillance powers still on the table, it isn't just crims who should be afraid of Johnny Law these days: journalists now have reason to fear as well. To crack down on embarrassing, Edward Snowden-style whistleblowers that expose the secrets of a large spy organisation, the Attorney General is pursuing new powers that would see said journalists jailed for reporting on the leaks.

The new laws are being proposed in the National Security Legislation Amendment Bill introduced into Parliament yesterday. Within the Bill is a proposal to jail those who report on confidential leaks from whistleblowers.

Journalists disseminating information and reporting on sensitive information could face up to 10 years in jail under the new proposals. Whistleblowers themselves aren't safe under the new laws either: those caught leaking will be sentenced to five years imprisonment.

It all comes down to an addition in Section 35P of the Bill:

35P Unauthorised disclosure of information


Unauthorised disclosure of information (1) A person commits an offence if: (a) the person discloses information; and (b) the information relates to a special intelligence operation.
Penalty: Imprisonment for 5 years.


Unauthorised disclosure of information—endangering safety, etc. (2) A person commits an offence if: (a) the person discloses information; and (b) the information relates to a special intelligence operation; and (c) either: (i) the person intends to endanger the health or safety of any person or prejudice the effective conduct of a special intelligence operation; or Schedule 3 Protection for special intelligence operations (ii) the disclosure of the information will endanger the health or safety of any person or prejudice the effective conduct of a special intelligence operation.
Penalty: Imprisonment for 10 years.

The Bill is clearly a bid to crack down on a potential Australian Edward Snowden. For those out of the loop, Snowden was a former employee of the NSA in the US who disagreed with the broad range of surveillance measures employed by the agency. He subsequently disclosed information relating to the PRISM surveillance program and became one of the most important whistleblowers since Julian Assange of Wikileaks-fame.

Snowden has since been branded as a traitor by the US government, with prominent politicians adding that that the man has put the lives of spies and soldiers at risk by leaking state secrets relating to ongoing operations. It didn't take long for similar rhetoric to arrive Down Under, with Attorney General George Brandis branding the NSA whistleblower as traitor to his country.

AG Brandis once remarked that "through [Snowden's] criminal dishonesty and...treachery to his country, [he] has put lives, including Australian lives, at risk".

Such rhetoric has been strongly condemned by the Australian Greens, with Senator Scott Ludlam calling the Attorney General's comments "completely unacceptable".

The amendment Bill has been referred to a Parliamentary Committee on Intelligence and Security.

[APH via The Guardian]

Jailed man image via Shutterstock


Comments

    I really don't remember packing all my things up and moving to North Korea to live but goddam it I must have.

    Freedom of speech?

      Don't have it in Aus

        Apparently not

          Nope - http://www.ag.gov.au/RightsAndProtections/HumanRights/PublicSectorGuidanceSheets/Pages/Righttofreedomofopinionandexpression.aspx

          A lot of the limitations are vary vague as well.

            How would you write it so that it wasn't vague?

            Specifically what topics would you say should be banned?

              I don't write laws but they could deem virtually anything falling under national security, public order, public health or morals. It's much the same as the US patriot act - virtually anything can be used against a person if they wish it to be.

              It's not any one thing tho, combine these limitations with the data retention\spying they do, it would be very easy to paint a 'bad' picture of any decent person.

          Never did either, I don't know why everyone assumes that we do just because the US apparently does.

      Freedom of speech doesn't give you the freedom to release secret information.

      Just like I can't leak my company's proprietary information because "freedom of speech" lets me say anything I want...
      Freedom of Speech doesn't make you immune to the consequences...

        Maybe the argument of "freedom of speech" is flawed. However, if we allow the government to hide secrets then we could very quickly find ourselves in a bad place. We, the people, are the ones hiring the politicians to manage our economy. And as their employers we have a right to know exactly what they are doing. If we give them the right to be secretive then they will become our masters and not the other way around.

    AG Brandis once remarked that “through [Snowden's] criminal dishonesty and…treachery to his country, [he] has put lives, including Australian lives, at risk”.

    This has been said multiple times by various US government officials as well. Has there been any concrete evidence that it is the case. It was much the same as Bradley Manning where they claimed national security and marine lives put at huge risk but nothing leaked directly lead to anyone being harmed let alone killed. Both cases were showed as huge embarrassments to the US government.

    It's disgusting that they are even considering putting this into play. I'm all for national security but not at the cost of our liberties - every citizen has the right to privacy.

      High level people have since come out and said he didn't put lives at risk.

      It's just the lie that is kept being told.

      Also remember they gave the information to the press and said, 'can you vet this for us' because they didn't want to take unnecessary risks.

      This whole thing and branding them criminals, illegal and so forth. just shows how they want laws to make anything a crime if they don't like it.

      It all ignores the fact democracy relies on there needing to be whistleblowers.

        You sign a contract that you will not release sensitive info. You then go ahead and release the sensitive info. That's breaking the law.

        If you were a smoker and you had to have repeated expensive operations and treatments for smoking related illness, would you be happy for some admin person to release your personal details and data to the world?

          Well there specially is legislation that says people can leak information.

          See the Public Interest Disclosure Act.

          Hence why they are going after journalists.

          Companies and governments can not compel you by any form of contract to protect breaches of the law.

          And christ that's a stretch for an analogy... but let's play along for fuck if I know why:

          If some admin person released your smoking treatment details because the government was killing you with known, consciously illegal behaviour (not just negligence per usual), while claiming to treat your smoking, you might not like it, but it'd be the right thing to do to stop the government from illegally killing you and other people they were claiming to treat, while killing them.

          Snowden didn't just release shit into the wind because he's a trouble-maker. He demonstrated very real breaches of laws and treaties by the US government.

          Crimes have to be reportable and in the very bizarre circumstance where who you are meant to report to is who is responsible for the crimes? Then it's the public's job to know, and deal with it.

            (And by 'deal with it' I mean, by getting angry on the internet, claiming they'll vote against whoever was responsible, then getting distracted by reality TV until the election at which point they'll vote for whoever makes the most ardent promises to protect 'the economy' and/or their way of life.)

          Laws are written by politicians. Politicians can't be trusted. Therefore laws must be carefully scrutinised and bad laws must be opposed.

    There should be a provision like :

    (b) the information relates to a legal and domestic special intelligence operation.

    because if it's not legal, the whistle-blower deserves protection, not prosecution.

      And some sort of reward for coming forward. After all, he would be sacked for speaking out.

    Apparently these lawmakers are ignorant of an invention known as the Internet.

    Just because you can censor the mass media, doesn't mean you can stop leaks from being disseminated.

    Besides what's to stop our newspaper organisations from setting up shell companies in places where these laws do not exist, and reporting on it from there? If it wasn't leaked by a Australian journalist, there's nothing you can do.

    Or am I not understanding the problem?

    Last edited 17/07/14 11:14 am

      Apparently these lawmakers are ignorant of an invention known as the Internet.

      Apparently you are ignorant of the laws being drafted to allow internet censorship.

      Besides what's to stop our newspaper organisations from setting up shell companies in places where these laws do not exist, and reporting on it from there?

      If they are overseas, how do they print the papers? Presses located in Australia will be bound by Australian law.

      Transmission media won't work either. We're an island. You can't prop a transmitter on another countries soil and broadcast into Australia.

      And as stated before, you can't rely on internet. Yes, the rules being brought in can be circumvented, but those circumventions can be closed down just as easily.

        haha your blind support of the liberals is so hilarious. and you're wrong, it can't be closed down just as easily.

        Is that why Radio Australia have already looked into using the extended AM broadcast band (1610-1710khtz) to broadcast into the pacific to save money on expensive shortwave transmitters?

        If the Indonesians wanted to push a high powered english AM transmissions into Australia, especially at night, it could be done. However, these days they would use the internet instead.

        Anyway more relevant to this situation is the fact the printing press will be no more in 10 years. Australian newspapers are already rolling back their production, and when it comes to broadcasting anything on the internet, any laws passed in Australia are very easy to get around.

        The south australian government tried to censor discussion on the internet a few years ago and was forced into a backflip, the same will happen here, the senate will never pass this.

        Current status of bill as at 10:25am on 18 July is "before the senate" - you can track it's progress here:
        http://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Bills_Legislation/Bills_Search_Results/Result?bId=s969
        I can't see it going any further than that.

        Last edited 18/07/14 10:56 am

    Did anyone actually read the quoted text or just the headline.

    For a journalist to be convicted they have to prove that the journalist disclosed the information. In a Snowden style case, this would not apply because the journalists didn't disclose the information. Snowden did, the Journalists just picked it up.

    I can't imagine that this is worded much differently from what the current legislation is. "You disclose secret information you're going to jail."

    If you are going to say that the government shouldn't be allowed to keep secrets, lets have a look at your criminal and medical history. And let throw your web browsing and banking history in too.

    These are, after all, secrets kept by the government. If the government can't keep secrets, these would have to be included.

      Let's say that governments shouldn't be allowed to keep reprehensible secrets about their breaches of treaties and laws - both domestic and international. Let alone, keep those secrets by legally making an example of anyone brave enough to expose them.

    Jailing journalists for doing their job? Did I accidentally wake up in Egypt?

    If only they put this much importance on stopping drug pushers and rapists from re-offending to harm the communities. The law is an ass in that way. To quote an old song " there aren't no russians & and there aren't no yanks, just corporate criminals, playing with tanks"

    Last edited 17/07/14 2:08 pm

    So the Australian Govt. condemns Egypt for imprisoning an Aussie Journo for "conspiring with terrorists" by interviewing and reporting on said terrorists, you know what a journo does. But if a Journo would do the same here with a whistle blower - off you go to prison Journo.

    And we all know how loosely this will be interpreted by the government:

    >>Unauthorised disclosure of information—endangering safety, etc.

    Hey Luke, The section you linked says nothing about journalists being in danger of imprisonment. It only mentions disclosure not dissemination.

    The 10 year imprisonment is for disclosing information that will endanger others. Eg releasing undercover agent's details.

    That being said, it's worrying that it's such a blunt rule any "special intelligence operation". Only the legal ones should be protected. Then again, using the above example, endangering an undercover agent is still not cool. They are following orders, whether the orders are legal or not is a different story.

    Last edited 17/07/14 3:39 pm

    Serves us right for not getting rid of representative government years ago and representing ourselves.

    I'm gonna rename my dog to fascism, so when I let him run in the park, I can say GO FASCISM GO!
    That's how you know you let people know you live under fascism

    Read the Bill there is far worse in it

    http://www.attorneygeneral.gov.au/Mediareleases/Pages/2014/ThirdQuarter/16July2014-NationalSecurityLegislationAmendmentBillNo12014.aspx

    Like suspending the rule of law for spies. They can legally break the law

    Like hacking third party computers and networks - and tampering with them "disrupting" the Bill says. Ie plant a virus, wipe your hard drive

    A third party could be any journo who speaks to someone asio is interested in

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