Counter terror bill ‘threat to press freedom’

A number of organisations have warned that powers intended to tackle the ‘vaguely defined’ crime of hostile state activity threatens the protection of journalistic sources.

In a joint statement, nine organisations have urged the House of Lords to recommend significant amendments to the new Counter Terrorism and Border Security Bill as it reaches the closing stages of its passage through Parliament.

The bill, first tabled in the Summer, proposes broad powers for border guards to stop and search individuals without suspicion on the grounds of tackling ‘hostile state’ activity, and would criminalise travel to terrorist hotspots and the viewing of terrorist-linked material online.

This means that a journalist taking a domestic flight could be stopped without any suspicion of wrongdoing and it would have to hand over materials, with no protection for confidential sources.

The organisations, including Index on Censorship and Reporters Without Borders, follow the criticism from the cross-party Joint Committee on Human Rights which argued that the legislation could restrict free speech and curb access to information.

Joy Hyvarinen, the head of advocacy at Index on Censorship, said: “The counter-terrorism and border security bill would change the law on freedom of expression in Britain, restrict press freedom, damage academic research and endanger fundamental rights. The bill is fatally flawed and we urge the House of Lords to ensure that the government rethinks the bill.”

Rebecca Vincent, the UK bureau director for Reporters Without Borders, said “This bill has extremely worrying implications for press freedom and the protection of journalistic sources. We have underscored our concerns over a number of specific clauses that should be struck, or at a very minimum, amended to include clear exemptions for journalistic activities. We call on lords to carefully scrutinise this problematic bill and amend it to ensure that it does not contribute to further deterioration of UK press freedom.”

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