A draconian new National Security Bill was introduced to the UK Parliament last week, by British Home Secretary Priti Patel.

Journalists, academics and human rights groups who receive any funding from a foreign government could face life imprisonment if they are found to have “disclosed leaked information” which “prejudices the safety or interests” of the U.K.

The Bill abandons the current distinction between spying and leaking, and between leakers, whistleblowers and journalists.

This appears to be deliberate on the government’s part.  The clear intention being to prevent journalists from any “onward disclosure” of information, whether already leaked or not.  It in effect makes them as liable in criminal law as the primary source of the leak.

One British MP also asked why the word ‘prejudice’ was used, not ‘damage’:

“I am curious about the use of the word “prejudicial”, which I reread several times, rather than “damaging”, which appears in other legislation. How is “prejudicial” to be defined where conduct does not actually cause damage?”

The Home Secretary explained that there was no definition for ‘prejudice’ in the bill as it would be “left up to ministers to decide”.

There are NO protections for whistleblowers in the Bill, which also deliberately omits the usual “public interest defence”.

Journalists and others publishing information the government claims damages national security will now face 14 years in jail instead of the current maximum of two years.

Maurice Frankel, director of the Freedom of Information Campaign, said the UK government “wants to make it easier to secure convictions under the secrets acts, increase penalties and abandon key provisions that now provide a public interest defence for disclosing information”.

“This disproportionate and oppressive set of proposals is presumably intended to ensure that officials and journalists are too terrified of the consequences to risk making or publishing unauthorised disclosures about intelligence, defence, international relations, energy policy or law enforcement.”

When introducing the Bill, the Home Secretary said: “The UK is a leader in this, along with our Five Eyes and international partners”.

In other words, keep an eye out for a similar Bill to be introduced here in Australia before long.

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