Union reminds UK authorities journalism is not a crime
20 December 2019
The union has pledged its support for NUJ member and journalist Sarah Harrison in an ongoing freedom of information legal challenge. The NUJ is extremely concerned that the authorities are citing national security laws aimed to prevent terrorism and applying these laws in order to block the release of information held about journalists.
In April 2019, London’s Metropolitan Police (MPS) confirmed it holds information about Sarah in correspondence between the MPS and US department of justice. However they have refused to disclose the information, partly on grounds of safeguarding national security and preventing terrorism.
In 2015 the union expressed alarm that Sarah, as the investigations editor of Wikileaks, had all her emails and digital data handed over to the US government by Google. According to reports at the time, the US justice department order included IP addresses and all emails (including sent, received, drafts and deleted) with details of the email date, time, size and length. The FBI also demanded records relating to her internet accounts including telephone numbers, credit cards and bank account.
La Repubblica journalist Stefania Maurizi has been investigating this and, in June 2017, made the Freedom of Information request to the MPS, with Sarah’s consent.
The MPS initially refused to confirm whether it held any information, but Stefania’s lawyers successfully appealed to the First-tier Tribunal. The MPS were required to respond to the substance of the request. They have confirmed Sarah's journalistic status and that they hold such documents. Yet they refuse to disclose them.
The MPS relies on three exemptions to refuse to disclose the information, which it links to national security and terrorism. They claim the law enforcement exemption is said to apply because of the MPS's concern about disclosure of the information increasing "the threat of terrorism by undermining the safeguarding of national security". In their national security exemptions they state: "In order to safeguard national security, there is a need for the MPS not to disclose what intelligence it holds in preventing or detecting an ever changing pattern of ongoing terrorist/extremist attacks or any other crime."
Seamus Dooley, NUJ assistant general secretary, said:
"The union is fundamentally opposed to the use of terror legislation as a means to clamp down on journalists working in the public interest. Journalism is not a crime, journalists report on national security, the law should not be used to curtail their reporting.
"By relying on anti-terror laws, and their blanket application, to prevent the disclosure of information undermines media freedom. If a public body, in assessing the public interest in favour of disclosure, is failing to take into account the watchdog element of the role of journalists then this too is worrying for all media workers.
"If this FOI request is refused at appeal then these laws are likely to be used against other journalists."