Tuesday, May 09, 2017

The UK's toxic secrecy

How bad is the UK's proposed new Espionage Act? It would see people jailed for publishing information freely obtainable under freedom of information laws:

Campaigners have warned that proposed reforms to the Official Secrets Act – dubbed the “Espionage Act” – would put it on a “collision course” with existing freedom of information powers.

If approved, the Law Commission reforms could leave journalists facing criminal charges for publishing leaked information, even if it could have been obtained under the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act.


Under the proposals, journalists would only have a defence if the information had been both lawfully disclosed earlier (e.g. through a freedom of information request) and widely disseminated.

Campaign for Freedom of Information director Maurice Frankel said: “These proposals are not only oppressive but unworkable. It is beyond common sense to make it an Official Secrets offence to leak information which anyone could obtain under FoI.

At present the UK Official Secrets Act and Freedom of Information Act thresholds are identical, at information "likely" to cause harm to their respective interests. However, the Espionage Act would lowe that threshold to "capable of causing harm". This is obviously a much lower threshold, and it makes the law absurd. But its not just the prospect of punishing journalists for receiving leaks of freely available information - it will also discourage public servants from discussing that information, and almost certainly raise release thresholds by stealth to to FUD.

But this is what happens in tyrannies. And there's no doubt the UK is giving up the pretence of democracy to go back to its autocratic, dictatorial roots. Again, if you live in the UK, the best thing you can do is leave. Because with an unfair electoral system, there's simply no chance of fixing this by democratic means.

As for New Zealand, we've just made it a criminal offence for anyone who has ever had a security clearance to communicate "classified information", even if they're no longer employed by the government or hold such a clearance, even if the information has nothing to do with any job they ever held, and even if it would be releasable under the OIA. These laws are catching on across the Five Eyes, and they're another example of how being allied with foreign surveillance tyrannies undermines our democracy. We should tell them to fuck off ASAP.