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Terrorism laws should not be used to sidestep press freedom, says NUJ

29 October 2015

The seizure of a Newsnight reporter's laptop using special powers under the counter-terrorism laws has been condemned by the NUJ. The BBC and journalist Secunder Kermani, who has reported extensively on UK-born jihadis, were targeted in an order police obtained from a judge under the Terrorism Act following Newsnight reports in which an individual identified as a member of Islamic State had featured.

Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ general secretary, said:

"Yet again we have a situation where the police are riding roughshod over press freedom and using anti-terror legislation to get their hands on journalistic information. There are serious questions to be answered about why the order obtained by the police warranted the seizing of a journalists' laptop – which may well have contained confidential information on other sources and other stories too.
"Using journalists as tools of the police in this way has a chilling effect on press freedom and hampers the ability of journalists to protect their sources and do their jobs properly and with integrity. Police and state interference is making the lives of journalists incredibly difficult and potentially jeopardies their safety in the process.
"Whether it's the routine use of surveillance by police on journalists, the legal cases brought against journalists accused of corrupting public officials or the targeting of journalists covering public order situations – it all creates a climate where trusting in journalists or being a whistleblower is incredibly difficult.
"How can any potential source, someone who believes that they have information that absolutely should be in the public domain, have any faith that their identity and their future can be safe in any one journalist or newspaper's hands? We lose the ability to protect our sources at our peril.
"Terrorism laws should not be used as convenient cloaks to sidestep measures that protect press freedom and the ability of journalists to inform the public and to hold power to account."

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) joined with the NUJ to condemn the seizure.

Jim Boumelha, IFJ president, expressed disquiet about the action of the police in exploiting the wide-ranging terror legislation to go after journalistic sources.

"This is a bad day for press freedom. Journalists have an obligation to protect their sources and any police and court action exploiting the wide-ranging terror legislation to force them to reveal their communications, including notes, e-mails, footage and recording, makes it more difficult for them to do their job to inform the public."

Tags: , terrorism, terrorism act, newsnight, bbc, communications, communications data, ripa, protection of sources, ethics, police, ifj, anti-terrorism laws