The National Security Bill and the press: a threat to reputable news publishers, an open door for foreign interference?
By Nathan Sparkes
The National Security Bill is intended to protect the UK from “foreign powers” and has been described as an anti-spying bill.
However, national security legislation often poses a threat to journalists’ ability to do their jobs – and this bill is no different.
A threat to press freedom
The most concerning part of the Bill for UK-based journalists is Clause 3, which states:
Assisting a foreign intelligence service
(1) A person commits an offence if the person—
(a) engages in conduct of any kind, and
(b) intends that conduct to materially assist a foreign intelligence service in carrying out UK-related activities.
(2) A person commits an offence if the person—
(a) engages in conduct that is likely to materially assist a foreign intelligence service in carrying out UK-related activities, and
(b) knows, or ought reasonably to know, that it is reasonably possible their conduct may materially assist a foreign intelligence service in carrying out UK-related activities.
(3) Conduct that may materially assist a foreign intelligence service includes providing, or providing access to, information, goods, services or financial benefits (whether directly or indirectly).
The penalty for this offence is imprisonment for up to 14 years, or a fine.
Reporters sometimes publish information which may assist a foreign intelligence service, yet its disclosure is in the public interest.
For example, the publication of data on unethical activities by UK intelligence services might both assist foreign intelligence services and be in the interests of the UK public to be known.
Some outlets, like the IMPRESS-regulated Declassified UK, specialise in reporting on alleged cases of unethical conduct committed by UK intelligence, diplomatic or military agencies.
It would be a significant threat to the freedom of the press if this provision was used to target Declassified UK and other, similar publishers acting in the public interest.
Alongside this heavy-handed provision, for which there is no defence for news publishers, other provisions in the bill benefit from a media exemption.
These provisions require individuals or organisations to register with the…