Friday, November 04, 2016

Canada spies on journalists

Another week, another example of police spying on journalists - this time in Canada:

Rights campaigners are among those sounding the alarm over the erosion of press freedom in Canada after it emerged that police in Montreal had spent several months monitoring the phone of a journalist in order to identify his sources.

La Presse, one of Canada’s oldest and largest newspapers, said on Monday that at least 24 surveillance warrants were obtained by Montreal police to track the phone of columnist Patrick Lagacé. The warrants enabled the force’s special investigation unit to track Lagacé’s whereabouts using the GPS in his phone, as well as monitor incoming and outgoing text messages and calls.

The revelations left Lagacé shaken. “I was appalled,” he said. “I was living in the fiction that police officers wouldn’t dare do that, and in the fiction that judges were protecting journalists – and hence the public – against this type of police intrusion.”

Lagacé isn't alone. It turns out that Quebec police have spied on at least six other journalists (and another one today), all in an effort to uncover their sources, often for the dubious purpose of shutting down leaks. All of these cases of spying would have been judicially authorised, though as with the Hager case here there are natural questions about whether they disclosed all that they should have done in seeking the warrants. The Quebec government has set up an inquiry to try and get the issue out of the media, but the fundamental problem is that Canadian (and New Zealand) law allows this sort of spying in the first place, with no special protection for the public interest work journalists do. The solution is to write those protections into the law, rather than just relying on caselaw, to create a strong presumption against police and spy agencies interfering in the work of the media.