The journalists' union has condemned as an attack on press freedom raids staged overnight by the Australian Federal Police.
The Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance slammed the raids by the AFP on Labor offices and the home of a Labor MP’s advisor. The raids were conducted in order to identify the source of a series of embarrassing leaks related to the National Broadband Network.
NBN late last year referred the leaking of internal documents to the AFP. The documents were seized on by Labor to attack the state of the rollout.
NBN documents released to press outlets have revealed higher than expected costs to remediate copper and challenges in sourcing power to power the nodes in NBN’s FTTN rollout.
“The raids are a heavy-handed and over-the-top response to media stories which have embarrassed the government,” MEAA CEO Paul Murphy said.
“Once again, the government wants to shoot the messenger rather than address the issues raised by journalists in their reporting.”
Although the AFP may have acted lawfully, “we contend there is something wrong with the law when police search warrants can be used to pursue legitimate whistleblowers,” Murphy said.
AFP Commissioner Andrew Colvin rejected criticism of the timing of the raids.
“The timing is completely determined by the AFP,” Colvin told a press conference this morning. “It's determined by the status and progress of the investigation, not by any external factors and not by any government influence,” he said.
Labor has claimed that parliamentary privilege applies to the documents seized by the AFP during the raids.
As a result, the documents have been sealed until the claim of privilege is dealt with by parliament.
“Both major parties have voted to bring into force legislation which has complete disregard for the public interest and instead targets whistleblowers and journalists,” Murphy said.
The MEAA CEO also said that the AFP needed to reveal whether it had accessed journalists’ ‘metadata’ in its efforts to unearth the source of leaks.
Colvin this morning refused to comment on whether his organisation had accessed the telecommunications data of journalists during its investigation.
“The access of journalists’ phone and internet records potentially puts them inadvertently in breach of the journalists’ code of ethics and the obligation to protect confidential sources,” Murphy said.
The AFP is not generally obliged to obtain a warrant before accessing metadata covered by the data retention scheme.
However, when accessing the metadata of a journalist to specifically identify the source of a story the law enforcement agency is required to apply for a warrant. Such a warrant will be granted in secret, without the affected journalist being notified.
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