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Minister responds to concerns about impact of terror law on journalism

Ben_WallaceThe government has responded to concerns new counter terrorism laws could have on investigative journalism.

In July, the News Media Association wrote to Home Office Minister Ben Wallace to voice concerns around proposals to make it a criminal offence to view terrorism material online because of the “chilling effect on legitimate investigative journalism in the public interest”.

The NMA, the trade body for the regional and national press, also warned that provisions in the Counter Terrorism and Border Security Bill for new border stop and search powers could endanger journalistic sources.

In his response, Mr Wallace outlined the safeguards in the Code of Practice for the stop and search powers which will be published in the autumn.

Mr Wallace, pictured, said: “The Schedule 3 Code of Practice will make clear that an examining officer should cease reviewing, and not copy, information which they have reasonable grounds for believing is confidential (including journalistic material).

“They may only examine such material where the Investigatory Powers Commissioner has determined that it could be used in connection with a hostile act or for the purpose of preventing death or significant injury.”

New amendments tabled last week by Home Secretary Sajid Javid have removed the requirement for material to be viewed three or more times in order for it to constitute a criminal offence, and attempted to make clear the circumstances in which a “reasonable excuse” for viewing such material would apply.

In his letter to the NMA, Mr Wallace said that these amendments had been tabled to address the “valid concerns” around the proposals.

Mr Wallace added: “The government recognises that valid concerns have been raised about the requirement that terrorist material be viewed three times. The intention behind this was to ensure proportionality, and to provide a safeguard for those who might inadvertently access such material. But we recognise the difficulties underlying that approach, including the arbitrary nature of the number and the uncertainty around how it would be implemented.

“In light of this, we have tabled amendments to the Bill that will remove this provision and replace it with a clearer and more certain safeguard with a similar effect.

“This will make it clear on the face of the legislation that the offence will not be committed if the person does not know, and has no reason to believe, that the information they are accessing is likely to be useful to a terrorist.”

the NMA says it remains “concerned” that the Bill lacks explicit safeguards for journalism and is set to write to MPs to outline these issues.