Reporters Without Borders Condemns Australian Police Raids

After police raided multiple properties owned by journalists and outlets, Reporters Without Borders called Australia’s actions a “grave threat”.

In December of last year, Australia passed its anti-encryption laws. The few that supported the legislation say that the laws are meant to help law enforcement go after lawbreakers and terrorists. If these laws aren’t brought in, then, supposedly, terrorists can plot without the prying eyes of law enforcement.

Well, it seems that those arguments have pretty much vanished into the ether. Last Friday, we brought you news that law enforcement used the anti-encryption laws to conduct raids against journalists. The laws being used is significant because, as many point out, it helped the government circumvent legal protections afforded to journalists. Pictures since circulated of law enforcement sifting through e-mails owned by journalists supposedly in an effort to track down news sources.

While many condemned this action against journalistic freedom, Home Affairs Minister, Peter Dutton, doubled down on the actions. He defended the moves by saying “Nobody is above the law“.

Now, the story (outside of Freezenet of course) is receiving international attention. Reporters Without Borders is condemning the actions conducted against the journalists. In a posting on their official website, they say this latest action represents a “grave threat”. From the post:

After the latest Australian federal police raid targeting the media, this time the Sydney headquarters of the national public broadcaster ABC, Reporters Without Borders warns the Australian government about the grave threat it is now posing to investigative journalism and the confidentiality of journalists’ sources.

In a scene that might be expected in an authoritarian country but not in a democracy, six federal officers entered the ABC building this morning and began examining computers, email accounts and data storage devices under a warrant authorizing them to “add, copy, delete or alter” any content they find.

The warrant was reportedly issued in order to help them to identify the sources for a report broadcast on the ABC current affairs programme “The 7.30 Report” on 10 July 2017 about the alleged role of Australian special forces personnel in the deaths of civilians in Afghanistan.

“Persecuting a media outlet in this way because of a report that was clearly in the public interest is intolerable,” said Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk. “This kind of intimidation of reporters and their sources can have devastating consequences for journalistic freedom and independent news reporting.”

Bastard added: “We urge Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s government to stop harassing investigative journalists, using national security as a pretext in connexion with subjects on which Australian citizens clearly have the right to be informed.”

The Australian story is proving how anti-encryption laws can be used as a weapon to crack down on free speech. If it weren’t for Australia, it would be easy to dismiss the idea as far-fetched. Even if anti-encryption laws are used to crack down on free speech, that sort of activity would be reserved for third world or totalitarian regimes, not first world countries. Australia completely nuked that thought process from orbit by proving that this, indeed, can very easily happen in a first world country.

This action provides a very real reason to be wary of countries contemplating making such moves. If my country starts actively pursuing anti-encryption practices, is it really to stop “the bad guys” or is it the final move before free speech online starts receiving a crackdown? Given the circumstances, it’s a perfectly reasonable question to be asking.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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