The Home Office has proposed an update to the Official Secrets Act which could see journalists treated as spies
The UK government has proposed new legislation to counter state threats, including an overhaul of the Official Secrets Act. According to the Home Office, the new legislation is necessary because “the existing legislation does not sufficiently capture the discernible and very real threat posed by state threats”.
The Home Office statement claims that “Since the passage of the Act in 1989, there have been unprecedented developments in communications technology… which in our view, means that unauthorised disclosures are now capable of causing far more serious damage than would have been possible previously.” Worryingly, it then goes on to equate journalism with espionage, claiming that “there is [not] necessarily a distinction in severity between espionage and the most serious unauthorised disclosures, in the same way that there was in 1989.”
If passed, this new legislation has serious consequences for journalism and its ability to hold governments to account. This is because the proposed bill includes a major crackdown on “unauthorised disclosures”, or leaks of sensitive information, and means that journalists could face up to fourteen years in prison for stories that embarrass the government.
This represents a direct threat to the ability of journalists and their sources to make public information about wrongdoing in the public interest.
The proposed legislation can be seen as part of a broader project on the part of Priti Patel’s Home Office to cut down civil liberties by legislative means. For example, the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill which was recently passed in Parliament, allows for police to shut down protests in England and Wales at will.
The proposal comes just weeks after CCTV footage was leaked to The Sun newspaper showing the then health secretary Matt Hancock kissing his aide Gina Coladangelo. Investigators have raided homes and seized computers in the hunt for the whistleblower. Under the proposed legislation, that whistleblower could face a lengthy prison sentence.
What do you think? Is the Home Office’s new proposal a much-needed modernisation in line with progressions in technology in the digital age? Or a totalitarian weapon of oppression which could be used to subdue and remove anyone who poses a threat to the government’s public image?