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21st Jul 2021

Journalists could face up to 14 years in prison if stories embarrass the Government

Kieran Galpin

Boris Johnson

Journalists could face jail time

Under plans to reform the Official Secrets Act, journalists could now be sentenced to up to fourteen years in prison. The Daily Mail reports that should this law have already been in effect, the journalists responsible for the Matt Hancock leak could very well be facing prison time.

The home secretary is a busy woman these days. Whether she is crafting controversial new immigration laws or criticising the taking of the knee, Patel is constantly in the political spotlight for all the wrong reasons. Her new motion, which closes this week, would see reporters who handle leaked documents face the slammer under new regulation thought to crack down on foreign agents.

The 1989 act is being updated to account for the internet and wireless transferring systems.

The Home Office said the following:

“Since the passage of the Act in 1989, there have been unprecedented developments in communications technology (including data storage and rapid data transfer tools) which in our view, means that unauthorised disclosures are now capable of causing far more serious damage than would have been possible previously.

“As a result, we do not consider that there is necessarily a distinction in severity between espionage and the most serious unauthorised disclosures, in the same way that there was in 1989.

“Although there are differences in the mechanics of and motivations behind espionage and unauthorised disclosure offences, there are cases where an unauthorised disclosure may be as or more serious, in terms of intent and/or damage.

“For example, documents made available online can now be accessed and utilised by a wide range of hostile actors simultaneously, whereas espionage will often only be to the benefit of a single state or actor.

“In severe cases, the unauthorised disclosure of the identities of agents working for the UK intelligence community, for example, could directly lead to imminent and serious threat to life.”

Because the Matt Hancock scandal relied heavily on leaked CCTV footage, those responsible could very well have faced jail time if this motion had passed sooner.

A spokeswoman for the National Union of Journalists said:

“Existing legislation distinguishes provisions and penalties between those who leak or whistleblow, those who receive leaked information, and foreign spies.

“The government proposes to eliminate or blur these distinctions. The government also wants to increase the maximum penalties that journalists might suffer for receiving leaked material from two to 14 years…

“The NUJ has long argued that where whistleblowers believe that they have acted in the public interest, they should be able to make this case in court, and if a jury agree with them, be protected.”