New bid to protect journalists’ sources

The senate continues to debate the government’s data retention laws today, as independent senator Nick Xenophon prepares to put forward an amendment that would see journalists notified when authorities want to access their metadata.

Sitting had been extended for the last two nights in an effort by the government to decide the fate of the legislation as soon as possible.

Liberal Democrats senator David Leyonhjelm also wants changes made to the legislation to better ensure privacy, while the Greens would like to see the legislation dumped altogether.

At a press conference last Thursday, Mr Xenophon told reporters the deal between the ALP and the Liberal Party to establish a warrant system for acquiring the telecommunications metadata of journalists was a step backwards.

Under the revised proposal, the process would be overseen by a government-appointed Public Interest Advocate.

“There will be no real protection for journalists. Having these so called public interest advocates will not allow media organisations to come before the authorities issuing these warrants,” Mr Xenophon said.

“Investigative journalism and a free press in this country will be weaker for it. The public’s right to know will be compromised.”

Mr Xenophon’s amendment would be modelled on American laws, and would allow journalists and news organisations to be notified when an application is made for a warrant to access their metadata. Mr Xenophon wants the issuing of a warrant to be a last-resort-only option.

He also highlighted the fact that a warrant is required when accessing metadata to investigate a journalist’s sources, but not for any other purpose or in any other profession.

“The key to it is this: if media organisations around the country say that this is not good enough … then they do stand a chance,” Mr Xenophon said.

“Now is the time for media organisations, for the media proprietors, for journalists around the country to fight this.”

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