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Australian union condemns pursuit of journalist's phone records

REUTERS/Toby Melville

This statement was originally published on ifj.org on 16 September 2015.

The International Federation of Journalists joins its affiliate the Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance (MEAA) in condemning the actions of a Vodafone employee accessing phone records of an Australian journalist. The IFJ joins MEAA in its complaint to Mr Iñaki Berroeta, Vodafone Hutchison Australia's CEO, and call for an investigation by the Australian Office of the Information Commission.

On Saturday September 12, Vodafone released a statement admitting that an employee had 'accessed some text messages and call records' of Australian investigative journalist, Natalie O'Brien in January 2011. Reports have suggested that Vodafone was aware the actions were illegal and that a cover-up may have taken place. Following the statement, MEAA wrote to the CEO of Vodafone Hutchison Australia, Mr Iñaki Berroeta, calling for an immediate investigation.

In a statement, MEAA CEO, Paul Murphy, said: "This is a shocking flagrant breach of privacy. It's absolutely outrageous behaviour on Vodafone's behalf. And it appears that there have been attempts at a cover-up. Journalists all understand that if they receive information in confidence they have an obligation to keep that in confidence. For a telecommunications company to engage in this sort of behaviour is unforgivable. The privacy commissioner should investigate this. And for a corporation to engage in such an egregious attack on press freedom is a disturbing development."

MEAA has also spent the past 12 months campaigning against the Australian Government's metadata retention laws which seek to allow government agencies to conduct surveillance and secretly access journalists' telecommunications data with the sole aim of identifying confidential sources, including whistleblowers who seek to expose fraud, corruption, dishonesty, illegality and threats to public health and safety.

The IFJ said: "The actions of the Vodafone staff are a clear breach of privacy and we join MEAA in calling for immediate action to be taken. Globally, it is accepted that journalists should never reveal confidential sources, and this is enshrined within the MEAA Journalist Code of Ethics. Telecommunications companies do not have the right to engage in this type of behavior."

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