A chilling step closer to Australian secret police

I quote from this article by Jonathan Holmes:

Foreign journalists are falling off their chairs in shock at the brutality of our data retention law, yet we hardly blink an eye…

… In particular, Senator Brandis addressed the so-called “chilling effect” on investigative journalism that the media feared would result from the authorities’ ability to scour reporters’ metadata in search of their confidential sources. That’s been fixed, he assured us. The new act contains “a large and detailed architecture for the protection of journalists … which forms no part of the existing law”.

So it does. And I’ve been brooding about that architecture for the past two weeks, as I sat for many hours on aeroplanes, courtesy of the ABC’s Foreign Correspondent. I’ve talked about it to journalists in Paris, Washington and New York, specialists in reporting on terrorism and counter-terrorism. And when I described one particular facet of the act to them – one that has received minimal comment here in Australia – they nearly fell off their chairs.

Division 4C of the amended act lays down that if a law enforcement agency wants to search a professional journalist’s metadata in pursuit of his or her source, it first has to get a “journalist information warrant” from an “issuing authority” – usually a judge or magistrate – or in the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation’s case, from the Attorney-General.

The authority should only issue the warrant, the act says, if the public interest in doing so outweighs various other public interests, including the source’s right to privacy. The authority must also weigh in the balance any arguments made by a public interest advocate.

This curious person – a senior lawyer (of course) with the necessary security clearances – will be appointed by the Prime Minister, no less. And, in the soothing words of the opposition defence spokesman, Labor’s Stephen Conroy, “the PIA will be empowered to stand in the shoes of the journalist and argue why it is contrary to the public interest to issue the warrant”.

Well fine. Except there’s a Kafkaesque catch-22. The public interest advocate will not be able to inform the journalist or news organisation that a warrant has been sought, so the advocate cannot be briefed on any public interest aspect of the story, or any particular reason why the source should remain confidential, that is not already blindingly obvious.

Indeed, this public interest advocacy will not be public. It will be utterly private: one lawyer secretly trying to persuade another lawyer why a spook or a copper should not get access to a reporter’s source, while the reporter – and, of course, the source – remain in blissful ignorance.

And here comes the kicker: the clause that had those foreign reporters falling off their chairs, but was barely mentioned by anyone, so far as I can see, in the parliamentary debates about the bill.

Section 182A of the new act says anyone who “discloses or uses” information about a journalist information warrant – about whether one has been applied for, or has been granted, or exists, or even does not exist – can be sent to prison for two years. Think about that. (my emphasis)

What possible justification can there be for this extraordinary provision? After all, these warrants need have nothing whatever to do with terrorism or national security. They can be issued to any agency that is investigating pretty much any crime (including, presumably, the crime committed by any Commonwealth public servant who leaks official information to the media – see section 70 of the Crimes Act).

Section 182A is of a piece with the increasingly draconian enforcement of secrecy that Australians have blithely accepted since 9/11.

End of quote.

FINALLY, and Aussie journalist speaks up about this legislation, and only after is has been passed and only on the basis of the reaction of his overseas colleagues. Extraordinary. Australians, for the most part, are blithely oblivious to the degree of control that is in place over free speech and so many other things in Australia. But it’s OK. I’m a good, law-abiding citizen. It won’t affect me…

As I’ve said before, the jail with no visible bars will not cause any protest. Rather, they are put in place slowly, one step at a time, justified by false flag terrorism, beginning in earnest with 9/11.

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