Official Secrets Act revamp targets journalists

Plans to change the Official Secrets Act drawn up by the Law Commission could lead Britain down a dark road.

The Law Commission has released plans to change the Official Secrets Act. One key idea is that the maximum prison sentence for leakers should be raised, perhaps to 14 years from the current two. Another suggestion is expanding the definition of espionage to cover obtaining sensitive information, as well as passing it on, reports Rob Evans in The Guardian. "At first glance, the Law Commission's review seems sensible," says The Daily Telegraph. After all, "many of the laws concerned are old, dating back to the early 20th century".

However, the proposals will not merely criminalise someone who leaks secret information, but also, "crucially", somebody who obtains it. This means that "journalists would be exposed to prosecution simply for doing their job". And "recent experience proves that British officials and politicians are all too willing to use laws and regulations to threaten journalists and others whose work they find inconvenient".

Indeed, agrees The Guardian. The Commission began researching the area just after the paper's publication of some of the huge volume of material leaked by Edward Snowden about surveillance techniques. Had these proposed rules been in force at that stage, "Alan Rusbridger, The Guardian's editor, could have faced criminal charges".

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"There was once another country that considered economic wellbeing and policy as matters of national security," says The Times. "It was called East Germany and it was the most oppressive policy state in history." While the government is worried about cybersecurity and "anxious not to jeopardise Brexit negotiations", neither issue "justifies putting legitimate whistleblowers or journalists who publish their information at risk of jail". The Cabinet Office should reject the Law Commission's ideas.

Dr Matthew Partridge

Matthew graduated from the University of Durham in 2004; he then gained an MSc, followed by a PhD at the London School of Economics.

He has previously written for a wide range of publications, including the Guardian and the Economist, and also helped to run a newsletter on terrorism. He has spent time at Lehman Brothers, Citigroup and the consultancy Lombard Street Research.

Matthew is the author of Superinvestors: Lessons from the greatest investors in history, published by Harriman House, which has been translated into several languages. His second book, Investing Explained: The Accessible Guide to Building an Investment Portfolio, is published by Kogan Page.

As senior writer, he writes the shares and politics & economics pages, as well as weekly Blowing It and Great Frauds in History columns He also writes a fortnightly reviews page and trading tips, as well as regular cover stories and multi-page investment focus features.

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