Aussie journalists to face jail time over spy leaks under new laws
Intelligence agents are to use a new sort of operational mode that are part of a special category. Agents would be given immunity from prosecution when they might need to do some dealings that would be considered illegal. Additionally, the bill has made up new offenses that are related to present and past intelligence missions and contractors which gives a direct mention to the risk of disclosures being uncovered by the ex-NSA employee whose better known today as whistleblower Edward Snowden. In the past, Brandis labeled Snowden as a "traitor."
Spokesman of the Australian Lawyers Alliance and head criminal barrister Greg Barns claimed the "troubling" legislation could be used against journalists who report on stories they receive involving special intelligence missions. "I thought the Snowden clause [in the bill] was bad enough but this takes the Snowden clause and makes it a Snowden/Assange/Guardian/New York Times clause," Barns said, according to an article from The Guardian, then added, "It's an unprecedented clause which would capture the likes of Wikileaks, the Guardian, the New York Times, and any other media organization that reports on such material."
Barns, who has worked on terrorism-related cases claims that Asio could covertly declare future cases to be special intelligence missions. This would in turn kick start the possibility of prosecuting media workers who find and then report on details of such operations. It would be simple for Asio to proclaim such special intelligence operations because all that is needed is the security director-general or even just the deputy director-general for approval, according to Barns, reports The Guardian.
"Their own boss says, 'I think we better call this a special intelligence operation, don't you?' 'Yes, sir,' close it down. The more you talk about it the more outrageous it becomes," Barns said. Another claim from Barns, as stated in a Guardian article, is that Brandis wished for power not even available to the UK and US governments where citizens had a greater amount of freedom of speech.
"In Australia we lack that fundamental human rights protection and therefore Brandis can get away with inserting a clause into a bill which you wouldn't be able to do in the UK or in the US," Barns said.
Head criminal law barrister Shane Prince believes that the new offenses associated with the special operations were in fact "quite draconian." "The five-year offense would seem to be able to apply even if the person had no idea about the special intelligence operation and they happened to release information which coincidentally was part of or related to the special intelligence operation," Prince said, as stated in a Guardian article.
"Add on to that the fact you probably in a trial wouldn't be able to know what the special intelligence operation was about, would mean that you could have the situation where a person could be on trial for disclosing information which they say is related to a special intelligence operation, even if the person didn't know that the information related to a special intelligence operation and they would never get to know in their trial," Prince added as reported by The Guardian. Members of parliament are set to debate the bill come September, until then this possible law will stay in the minds of Australia's journalists.