Inquiry to scrutinise data retention's impact on journalists

Report will come after data retention is introduced, if the government gets its way

Hot on the heels of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security's report that endorsed the introduction of a wide-ranging mandatory data retention program, the PJCIS has launched an inquiry into the impact that the legislation will have on journalism in Australia.

Holding such an inquiry was one of the PJCIS report's recommendations.

However, the inquiry is due to report after the legislation is expected to have been passed.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott has indicated he wants the data retention legislation passed this month.

The PJCIS intends to report to parliament by 4 June.

The potential to jeopardise the anonymity of journalists' sources was canvassed during the data retention inquiry, with submissions from media organisations highlighting the potential for the regime to have a chilling effect on reporting in Australia.

Although the report recommended that the legislation be passed, it acknowledged "the importance of recognising the principle of press freedom and the protection of journalists’ sources".

"The Committee considers this matter requires further consideration before a final recommendation can be made," the report stated.

"The Committee therefore recommends that the question of how to deal with the authorisation of a disclosure or use of telecommunications data for the purpose of determining the identity of a journalist's source be the subject of a separate review by this Committee."

The report also said that in the case of warrant-less access to data retained under the scheme it would be "reasonable to require the Ombudsman or Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security (IGIS), as appropriate, to be notified of the making of an authorisation which is for the purpose of determining the identity of a journalist’s sources".

"In its previous inquiry, the Committee acknowledged the importance of recognising the principle of press freedom and the protection of journalists’ sources," the PJCIS chair, Liberal MP Dan Tehan, said in a statement announcing the new inquiry.

"Balancing this with the needs of law enforcement and security agencies to investigate serious offences, it was apparent that further consideration was needed on the question of how to deal with the authorisation of a disclosure or use of telecommunications data for the purpose of determining a journalist’s source

“The committee looks forward to engaging with stakeholders in a separate review on this matter.”

The Attorney-General, George Brandis, asked the PJCIS to address the question of "how to deal with the authorisation of a disclosure or use of telecommunications data for the purpose of determining the identity of a journalist's source".

The committee has called for submissions to its new inquiry to be made by 2 April.

Resumption of debate on the second reading of the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Amendment (Data Retention) Bill 2014 is scheduled for today.

Follow Rohan on Twitter: @rohan_p

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