Earlier this year, the Law Commission in the United Kingdom introduced a “Consultation Paper” called the Protection of Official Data. It replaces the Official Secrets Act through legislation that will have whistleblowers incarcerated for up to 14 years for publishing state information and receiving sensitive material from non-governmental sources. The previous sentencing for an enemy of the state was a maximum of 2 years.
The aim of the law is to intimidate investigative journalists and whistleblowers. Releasing information on the basis of “public interest” is no longer an option for the violators’ defense. There was no press release or consultation with media outlets despite claims made by the Law Commission that a number of news outlets were involved.
Under the proposal, publications receiving sensitive material could be subject to legal action by the British government. WikiLeaks has a 10-year record of publishing sensitive government material to expose corruption and enhance transparency. If the bill passes, someone like Julian Assange could face trial and imprisonment for publishing government data through WikiLeaks.org.
The proposal comes only a few months after the Investigatory Powers Act was signed into law in November 2016. Much like the NSA’s Prism, a mass surveillance program that began in 2007 as a part of the Protect Americans Act, the Investigatory Powers Act allows mass surveillance of the public in the UK. The information is gathered in Bulk Personal Datasets including telecommunication, financial, and travel data. According to the European Court of Justice, general surveillance on this scale is unlawful. However, the Investigatory Powers Act has already been implemented as of January 29, 2017.
The public is being watched, and through the Protection of Official Data proposal will not be allowed to use non-governmental sources and material to expose corruption, abuse of power, and criminal activities of officials. Hence it would be impossible for journalists and whistleblowers to bring cases like the Westminster pedophile ring to light.
Similar legislation was passed in the United States under the National Defense Authorization Act 2017. The United States can now fund think tank groups to provide research siding with the government and take legal action against media outlets the government deems as propaganda. Essentially, the government is free to spread its own propaganda, which was illegal until 2011. The policy suppresses news outlets reporting any issues in conflict with government views.
The power of corporate run media has recently been threatened by the growth of alternative media platforms and the war against “fake news”. There are many cases of harassment and intimidation by the governments in the United States and the UK to silence journalists. Both countries are passing laws in order to crack down on journalists exposing the system.
Edited by Lydia McMullen-Laird