Australian Federal Police Raid Journalist's Home Over Publication Of Leaked Documents

from the cool-cool-cool dept

The Australian government is using its considerable national security powers to discourage local journalists from reporting unflattering news. Publishing leaked documents will get your home raided by the feds in Australia. (Wait, I'm getting something in my earpiece… it appears this is not just an Australian phenomenon.)

The Australian federal police have raided the home of News Corp Australia journalist Annika Smethurst investigating the publication of a leaked plan to allow government spying on Australians.

On Tuesday police executed a warrant investigating the “alleged publishing of information classified as an official secret” which they said had the potential to undermine Australia’s national security.

Her employer called it a "dangerous act of intimidation," which is exactly what it is. The government may be claiming this is about protecting the nation, but if it has a problem with leakers, it should maybe take a look at its leakers first, rather than punish journalists for engaging in journalism. Or -- and I'm just throwing this out there -- maybe the government shouldn't engage in secret domestic surveillance or other acts that would provoke public outrage if they were exposed.

Unfortunately, Australia really doesn't have a shield law to protect journalists, leaving them only with the dubious option of defending "unauthorized disclosures" as being made in the public interest. Even if nothing comes of this, the message has been sent: publishing leaked documents will bring the heat -- the kind of heat that leaves a chill everywhere it's been.

The Australian government firmly -- and with the force of law -- believes anything it thinks should be secret should stay a secret. Smethurst wasn't the only journalist targeted by the government for reporting on supposed secrets.

Just hours after the Australian Federal Police raided the home of high-profile journalist Annika Smethurst, broadcaster Ben Fordham has revealed he’s also being targeted for his reporting.

The 2GB Drive presenter and Sky News contributor revealed he was the subject of a probe over his story yesterday about six asylum seeker boats attempting to reach Australia.

An hour after his report went to air yesterday, his producer was contacted by an official from the Department of Home Affairs to advise the material was “highly confidential”.

“In other words, we weren’t supposed to know it,” Fordham told listeners today.

Right now, the investigation is the DHA's. But it has already informed Sky News it will likely be turning this over to the federal police as a criminal investigation. That's probably because Fordham has refused to cooperate with the Home Affairs investigation and name his source. I'm sure the AFP feels it can suss out the leak source by doing what it did to the News Corp journalist: raid their home and take all of their electronics.

The Australian government is pretending this is normal. The Prime Minister has refused to offer a coherent comment and the usual things are being said about national security by the agencies involved in these investigations. But the truth of the matter is this is not normal. According to the New York Times' report on the raid, this is the first time in more than ten years the Australian government has gone after a journalist for publishing sensitive documents.

The AFP and DHA want it to appear normal, but it isn't. They know it. And they're counting on this combination of breezy national security platitudes and heavy-handed tactics to discourage further reporting on things the government would rather citizens remained blissfully unaware of.

Filed Under: annika smethurst, australia, ben fordham, chilling effects, journalism, raids, surveillance


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  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 5 Jun 2019 @ 3:58am

    'If we can't listen to everything the very country is at risk!'

    The Australian federal police have raided the home of News Corp Australia journalist Annika Smethurst investigating the publication of a leaked plan to allow government spying on Australians.

    On Tuesday police executed a warrant investigating the “alleged publishing of information classified as an official secret” which they said had the potential to undermine Australia’s national security.

    The only way I can think of to mesh the statement and what it was talking about is if the australian government believes that not being able to conduct domestic spying, something that the public absolutely should be told of before it goes into effect so that they have a chance to protest and potentially stop it, would 'undermine national security', and at that point they might as well argue that people being able to close their curtains or speak privately is a 'threat to national security', and it would be just as deserving of respect as a serious and not-at-all insane idea.

    Privacy is a 'threat to national security' in the same way that other basic rights(anonymity, the right to gather and talk with other people, the right to travel without having to clear it first...) are. Bad people can abuse them to do bad things, but that doesn't mean you just toss them aside and do even worse things.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      MathFox, 5 Jun 2019 @ 4:24am

      Re: 'If we can't listen to everything the very country is at ris

      To me it sounds that the leaks are more of a government job security issue... in which the govenment appears as a threat to national privacy.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 5 Jun 2019 @ 5:20am

        Re: Re: 'If we can't listen to everything the very country is at

        Well "national security" for politicians has truly no meaning except "we want it now and don't want to explain why".

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          AJ12, 6 Jun 2019 @ 8:44am

          Re: Re: Re: 'If we can't listen to everything the very country i

          Actually National security was defined in Australian anti-terror legislation not long after 9/11 by John Howard's conservative (Liberal) government. The definition is extremely broad and can readily apply to just about anything.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      AJ12, 6 Jun 2019 @ 8:40am

      Re: 'If we can't listen to everything the very country is at ris

      You know what takes the cake. If the government went ahead with giving the Signals Directorate the power to do this and thus have to make it law then it would need to have been debated in our Parliament. It would have been public knowledge anyway.

      Regarding the ABC the individual who leaked these documents, called the Afghan Files, is already known and in the middle of a court case to determine if criminal activity took place. You could give the benefit of the doubt and say they were looking for evidence to help prosecute this case but if that is true questions would need to be asked on why the warrant gave the Federal Police the ability to collect, alter and DELETE files that it found in the course of the raid on our National Broadcaster.

      This is just the use of the Federal Police by Government executives to intimidate journalists and potential whistleblowers.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Tanner Andrews (profile), 5 Jun 2019 @ 4:07am

    No Written Constitution

    England, along with its taggers-along, does not have a written constitution. Essentially, the rights you have are what the government says you have today.

    They are of course subject to change. England's ``Prevention of Terrorism Act'', for instance, should help you to understand your true place in English society.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 5 Jun 2019 @ 9:26am

      Re: No Written Constitution

      Constitution of Australia

      You are correct about Great Britain though.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Thad (profile), 5 Jun 2019 @ 9:47am

      Re: No Written Constitution

      England, along with its taggers-along, does not have a written constitution. Essentially, the rights you have are what the government says you have today.

      That's a bit reductive.

      England has centuries of statutory and common law. In terms of real-life, day-to-day rulings, that's not substantially different from having a written constitution -- written constitutions are, inevitably, subject to interpretation by the courts, selective enforcement by executive officers, etc.

      It's true that the US has a First Amendment, while the UK doesn't (and neither do Australia and various other "taggers-along", as you put it), but that's not really the reason they have different concepts of what freedom of speech means. First Amendment jurisprudence really only goes back about a century, and the interpretation of the First Amendment has changed dramatically in that time -- hell, even Oliver Wendell Holmes's interpretation of the First Amendment changed dramatically in the eight-month period between Schenck and Abrams.

      The UK et al's concept of free speech is based on past decisions of the courts. The same is true of the US's concept of free speech. It's true that the courts in various countries have reached different conclusions about what free speech means -- but the reason the US has a different concept of free speech than other countries isn't simply that it has a First Amendment, it's that it's had a series of court decisions that have interpreted that amendment in particular ways.

      Written or not, a constitution is subject to judicial interpretation. "Essentially, the rights you have are what the government says you have today" is a true statement no matter which government you're talking about.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Uriel-238 (profile), 6 Jun 2019 @ 1:25am

      Re: No Written Constitution

      Are you telling me the Constitutional Monarchy isn't?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Jun 2019 @ 6:20am

    It seems that random police raids are a fairly routine occurrence in Australia, and with the widely abused Anton Pilar orders, allows intellectual property owners to execute and direct police raids for ostensibly civil infractions.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 5 Jun 2019 @ 8:46am

      Re:

      "allows intellectual property owners to execute and direct police raids for ostensibly civil infractions"

      Any of them get shot yet?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Jun 2019 @ 9:00am

    A communications disruption can mean only one thing—invasion

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Jun 2019 @ 9:19am

    is there any country in the so-called 'Free World' today that isn't run by a government that wants to know everything about everybody, whilst at the same time wants to keep what it, it's members and friends kept secret? how can any government actually justify carrying out secretive surveillance on it's own citizens while still trying to call itself and it's country a part of the 'FREE WORLD'? this is the sort of thing that wars have been fought over! taking away privacy and freedom under the mistaken belief that a country is still 'free' is ridiculous! it makes it a member of those countries like Iran and N.Korea that are nothing but dictator ships and supposedly despised by 'The Free World'!!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Winston S, 5 Jun 2019 @ 10:20am

    The Prisoner (Patrick McGoogan)

    The dimensions of confinement vary by the whims of wardens, but calling jail a free speech designated area seems effective.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Tim R (profile), 5 Jun 2019 @ 10:49am

    Huge Surprise

    I'm not sure why this shocks anybody in the US. Law enforcement has practically had the same mission statement here for decades: go after the end points, not the producers.

    War on drugs? Arrest the users instead of the dealer.
    Gun control? Go after the shooter and ignore the seller.

    Business as usual 'round these parts.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    The Central Scrutinizer (profile), 5 Jun 2019 @ 4:10pm

    Not only was the ABC raided....

    But the warrant gave the AFP the power to copy, delete and modify files on its computers. That is a massive over reach and sets off all kinds of alarm bells. What next, planting files on people's computers? This is very dangerous stuff. The so called "prime minister" just shrugged it off and said "talk to the AFP". Law enforcement doing the government's bidding. Gee, that's always ended so well in the past.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Jun 2019 @ 7:32pm

    It's worth pointing out:

    • This happened less than 2 weeks after an election
    • The reports on the leaked documents are 2+ years old
    • The police wouldn't be acting without someone making a complaint

    The whole thing stinks like someone in the DHA is butthurt about it all and waited until now to avoid jeopardising chances of re-election.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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