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NUJ in court challenge to the Snoopers’ Charter

14 June 2019

The National Union of Journalists has been granted permission to intervene in a judicial review of the Investigatory Powers Act 2016. The union maintains there is inadequate protection for journalists, their equipment, materials and sources.

Liberty, the human rights organisation, won the right to take judicial review proceedings of the law which gives a wide range of state agencies powers to collect electronic communications and records of internet usage in bulk and create large datasets that include data of people not even suspected of any crime or other wrong-doing. During the passage of the Act, the NUJ had argued for protection for journalists and the right to protect their sources from surveillance.

Sir Adrian Fulford, the Investigatory Powers Commissioner, said M15 handled large amounts of personal data in an "undoubtedly unlawful" way, had kept it too long and not stored it safely. This was revealed during Liberty’s judicial review.  M15 also failed to give senior judges accurate information about repeated breaches of its duty to delete bulk surveillance data and was been criticised for mishandling sensitive legally privileged material.
MI5 unlawfully handled bulk surveillance material data, Liberty litigation reveals

The NUJ’s intervention is expected to be heard on Monday 17 June at London's Royal Courts of Justice. It will argue that the bulk surveillance powers in the Act permit an interference with journalistic communications. The safeguards to protect journalistic sources are inadequate and the powers in the Act threaten to undermine the vital public watchdog role of the media. The NUJ has argued the Act has had a chilling effect on potential sources giving information in the public interest to journalists. Other legislation, such as the Police & Criminal Evidence Act 1984 and the Terrorism Act 2000 provides safeguards and requires an opportunity to be heard prior to journalistic material being seized.

The union's code of conduct says an NUJ member must protect the identity of the source of their story and any evidence collected as part of journalistic work.

Roy Mincoff, NUJ legal & industrial officer, said:

“The Investigatory Powers Act 2016 fails to protect journalists and their sources from bulk or other surveillance by the state authorities. The Act falls far short of the protections, even if limited, in other legislation. That the Government has now had to admit that MI5 has already broken the law both as to the obtaining and retention of information shows just how vigilant we must be to prevent this happening again. It emphasises the need for the IPA to be amended to significantly strengthen safeguards for journalists and their sources.”

Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ general secretary, said:

“These breaches by M15 and its failure to provide information to senior judges should give everybody a great cause for concern. The security services must never be beyond the law. Its failure to properly treat legally privileged material is also extremely worrying and makes it even more vital that the NUJ’s concerns over the treatment of journalistic material must be taken seriously in the High Court and the law changed to protect journalists’ rights.”

Sajid Javid, Home Secretary, has launched an independent review “to consider and what lessons can be learned for the future”. Home Secretary’s statement.

Tags: , Investigatory Powers Act, snoopers' charter, code of conduct, protection of sources, surveillance, M15, Adrian Fulford, Investigatory Powers Commissioner, judicial review