After Passing Worst Surveillance Law In A Democracy, UK Now Proposes Worst Anti-Whistleblowing Law

from the oh,-didn't-you-notice-you-had-been-consulted? dept

Last November, the UK government finally passed the Snooper’s Charter, officially known as the Investigatory Powers Act. That was largely because everyone in the UK was too busy arguing over the Brexit mess to notice that Theresa May had finally achieved her goal, and pushed through what the Open Rights Group called “the most extreme surveillance law ever passed in a democracy.” Now that May has provided the police with the ability to rummage through a year’s worth of every Brit’s browsing history without a warrant, and given permission for the intelligence agencies to break into any computer and demand backdoors to be installed for any software or online service used in the UK, it seems she has a new target: whistleblowers. The Guardian reports on big changes the authorities want to make to the laws protecting government secrets, doubtless with an eye to dissuading any future Snowden/Guardian-type partnerships in the UK:

The [UK] government’s legal advisers have been accused of launching a “full-frontal attack” on whistleblowers over proposals to radically increase prison sentences for revealing state secrets and prosecute journalists.

Draft recommendations from the legal advisers say the maximum prison sentence for leakers should be raised, potentially from two to 14 years, and the definition of espionage should be expanded to include obtaining sensitive information, as well as passing it on.

Although its good news that several old Official Secrets Acts are to be updated for the digital age, a Guardian editorial notes that the new approach would be broader and harsher than existing laws:

Reporters, as well as the whistleblowers whose stories they tell, would be under threat of sentences of up to 14 years, regardless of the public interest and even if there were no likelihood of damage.

Following the firestorm that greeted the announcement of this criminalization of core journalistic activities, and the absence of any public interest defense, May’s spokesperson rushed out a comment:

I’ve seen the way this has been reported and it is fundamentally wrong. It is not, never has been and never will be the policy of the government to restrict the freedom of investigative journalism or public whistleblowing.

However, that response does not deny that journalists would indeed run the risk of 14 years in prison for handling documents leaked by whistleblowers. Instead, it seems, we are supposed to accept that the UK government will do the “right thing” here, and not actually use the new powers against investigative journalism. Leaving aside the fact that just a couple of months ago it passed the Snooper’s Charter despite warnings about its excessive measures, there’s another very good reason not to trust the UK government here. The Law Commission, the official body which produced the proposals, says on its Web site the following about how it drew up its plans:

In making its proposals the Law Commission met extensively with and sought the views of government departments, lawyers, human rights NGOs and the media.

The Guardian contacted some of those the Law Commission claims to have met, and they spoke of the very limited nature of the discussions:

[The human rights organization] Liberty said that while a meeting was held, it was “not on the understanding that this was a consultation”.


Cathy James, the chief executive of Public Concern at Work, was also surprised to see her the whistleblowing charity listed as being involved.

She said: “I didn?t actually know we were listed in the document as we have been working our way through it so it is a big surprise to me. I believe my colleague met with them initially but we were not consulted in the normal sense of the word consultation. That is not what happened.”

And the Guardian itself, also allegedly one of those whose views were sought, wrote that it had held only one preliminary meeting with the government’s legal advisers, and that it was not consulted before being listed in the report.

Had it been just one organization making these comments, you could put it down to a misunderstanding. But for several people to report independently that they had only the briefest of meetings with the Law Commission, and that they did not regard those in any way as “consultations”, suggests a conscious and shabby attempt to sneak out extreme proposals while pretending that they were the result of broad-based and in-depth discussions.

It is hard not to see this as yet another law that the UK government is determined to push through regardless of what anyone thinks, just as it did with the Snooper’s Charter. Let’s hope that this time the public and politicians aren’t too distracted by the Brexit omnishambles to fight and defeat these changes that threaten not just whistleblowers and investigative journalism, but potentially British democracy itself.

Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or, and +glynmoody on Google+

Filed Under: , , ,

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “After Passing Worst Surveillance Law In A Democracy, UK Now Proposes Worst Anti-Whistleblowing Law”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Gee, if only citizens would push harder against their leaders when they go to this length to hide what they are doing.

They are supposed to represent your interests, yet they seem more interested in getting fatter wallets & making sure no one ever finds out.

Perhaps it is time they start expressing their discontent with the way things are going & clean house.

Chaplain says:

Re: British Canary


The British Government is a few steps ahead of the U.S. Government in building an Orwellian surveillance & control state — so American citizens should fearfully observe the British government model & objectives … to see where America is soon headed. The Brits are an advance-warning system for us (canary in the coal mine).

Power corrupts. Powerful governments can NOT be trusted. Constant close vigilance & control of government functions is critical to liberty.

U.S. Government courts will NOT protect you — they are an integral part of the government itself… and ultimately serve only ‘government interests’ — NOT those of the American citizens.

David says:

Well, nothing can go wrong then.

Instead, it seems, we are supposed to accept that the UK government will do the "right thing" here, and not actually use the new powers against investigative journalism.

So if someone reports the government doing illegal things, the government wants to have the right to throw him legally into jail for 14 years.

So we are talking about dealing with a situation triggered by the government’s overreach regarding rights they don’t have been granted, and imagine it will exercise restraint regarding exercising rights they have been granted.

British humour relies on delivery with a straight face, and they sure do love a challenge.

GEMont (profile) says:

Siege Mentality - that'll teach'em to declare war on the public eh!

I believe that what is happening in the UK and the US might be best described as, “Pulling the wagons into a circle”.

Sadly, the “indians”, or adversary, in this case, just happen to be the citizens of the UK and the US.

Can’t help but wonder when the other 5-Eyes Nations; Canada, New Zealand and Australia, will start to melt-down.

Who knows, since the 5-Eyes is a white, christian, english-speaking Cabal, perhaps T. Rump is actually its Grand Dragon leader. 🙂

Anonymous Coward says:

Their scared that the extent of their violations getting out and either creating such opposition that their forced to lie and do fuck all about it……..or creating the kind of opposition that dramatically changes the automatic social acceptance of mass or individual violations, kicking, screaming, knarling, gripping, scratching all the while

You are more concerned with hiding your violations then you are with championing peace. Setting yourselves up to be the champions of chaos more like, why implicate yourselves, when you can get better at herding others to get a result you want.

Manipulation is your game, secrecy, your public shield

This is the message i am getting by this action, and im throwing this back in your face, if you have nothing to hide, other then what everyone can agree with being kept secure, but do not think people stupid not to realise the convinience of hiding information behind the likes of nuke codes

Can you tell im a lil upset by this news, ontop of bad news ontop of bad news ontop of bad news ontop of bad news ontop of bad news ontop of bad news ontop of ba………

See you guys next bad news

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...