Monthly Archives: October 2014

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Clegg Calls for Journalists to get Public Interest Defence

Newspapers

According to Nick Clegg, journalists should be afforded a defence if they break the law in the course of pursuing information that is in the public interest. The Lib Dem leader suggested that journalists should be able to break some data protection, computer misuse and bribery laws in the pursuit of such information without fear of prosecution.

Clegg’s comments follow concerns about the way police have pursued those who provide information to journalists, which have led these areas of legislation to come under scrutiny. In order to pursue sources, police have been controversially gaining access to the phone records of journalists.

Clegg was speaking at his monthly press conference, ahead of an upcoming House of Lords debate where this kind of law will be proposed. The proposals will take the form of amendments to the crime and criminal justice bill.

Clegg suggested that “You probably need to put [the public interest defence] in the Data Protection Act, the Bribery Act, maybe one or two other laws as well, where you enshrine a public interest defence for you, for the press. So that where you are going after information and you’re being challenged, you can set out a public interest defence to do so.” The amendments tabled in the upcoming debate will propose the introduction of such a defence to both of these acts along with the Computer Misuse Act.

Sources within the Lib Dem party suggest express the opinion that the amendments may not be pushed to a vote, and that there was a good chance of reaching an agreement with the conservatives “in the not too distant future” that could see government proposals put forward. The official spokesman for the Prime Minister, when asked about the matter, said the government would look into matters thrown up as the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) comes under review.

Separately from these claims, Clegg has also expressed support for the review if RIPA, and the possibility of greater protection for journalists whose records may be accessed by police. Clegg said on the matter that it is “incredibly important in a free society that journalists should be able to go after information where there’s a clear public interest to do so, without fear of being snooped upon or having all of their files kind of rifled through without clear justification.”

A separate proposed amendment to Section 55 of the Data Protection Act would see the sentence for accessing personal data unlawfully increased. Where currently the maximum penalty is a fine, this amendment would see the possibility of probation and community service. In more serious cases, it would also introduce the prospect of up to two years’ imprisonment.