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.
Jailed man image via Shutterstock