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Journalists' sources under threat with Australia's data retention regime

This statement was originally published on ifj.org on 12 October 2015.

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) joins its affiliate the Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance (MEAA) in condemning the commencement of new data retention laws tomorrow, October 13, 2015. The IFJ and MEAA call on the Australian government to immediately review these new laws and other national security legislation to restore a proper balance between free speech and security.

On October 13, the Australian government's data retention regime will come into effect, which requires telecommunications companies to retain telecommunications data of their customers for a period of two years, which at least 21 government agencies can access. The new legislation will allow the government to identify and pursue journalists' sources, including whistleblowers who seek to expose instances of fraud, dishonesty, corruption and threats to public health and safety.

MEAA, along with Australian journalists and media organisations, has repeatedly warned the government and politicians of the threat these new laws pose to press freedom, however the legislation was passed in March.

At the last minute, the government added a new scheme: the "Journalist Information Warrant" and "Public Interest Advocates" as a "safeguard" for journalist sources, however they were introduced without consultation, the new scheme will operate in secret, and there remains the threat of a two year jail term for reporting the existence of a Journalist Information Warrant. There is no reporting or monitoring of the warrant scheme. Journalists and media organisations will never know how much of their data has been accessed nor how many sources and news stories have been compromised.

The director of MEAA's Media section Katelin McInerney said: "These laws are a massive over-reach by the Government and its agencies. They make every citizen a suspect, seek to intimidate and silence whistleblowers, and crush public interest journalism. We ask Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to urgently review this and the earlier tranches of national security legislation, to restore a proper balance between free speech and security."

The IFJ said: "These laws are a violation of press freedom and seek to circumvent journalists' obligations to protect the identity of their confidential sources as required by MEAA's Journalist Code of Ethics. The government needs to immediately review these laws to bring them in line with freedom of expression principles and press freedom. Neither journalists nor their sources should be threatened with jail sentences for simply doing their jobs."

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