Adam Henschke: New data laws risk scrutiny of whistleblowing


USB Memory stick on Computer

Heightened scrutiny of journalists metadata may mean public servants, who have limited whistleblower protections, will go straight to the internet. Their public-interest disclosures won’t receive cautious scrutiny prior to publication, possibly putting lives at risk.

The Australian government made some concession towards journalists when the new data retention legislation was passed by both houses of parliament last month. But that doesn’t mean a journalist’s metadata is protected from ever being accessed by authorities.

While much has been said about the importance of press and media freedom, another important aspect so far has received far less coverage: that seeking to discourage media involvement in reporting leaks on government practices might actually run counter to the national interest.

Under the new law, which will come into effect in 2017, the government and opposition have agreed to a secret warranting system.

Current whistleblower laws in Australia offer some protections to public servants, but others generally receive very little legal protection. Given the importance of the media to a functioning democracy, journalists are seen as deserving of special treatment.

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