Campaigners warn of ‘oppressive’ proposal to lower threshold for prosecution of whistleblowers and journalists.
Whistleblowers and journalists could be imprisoned for revealing documents that can be obtained through freedom of information requests, campaigners have warned.
Responding to the consultation on Law Commission proposals for a new espionage act with more punitive powers, freedom of speech organisations have condemned plans for lowering the threshold for prosecutions.
The Campaign for Freedom of Information and the rights group Article 19 fear that the proposals would make it easier to secure convictions by weakening the test for proving an offence and even criminalise passing on information discoverable under FoI requests.
Under the 1989 Official Secrets Act, some offences require proof that a disclosure is likely to damage defence, international relations or law enforcement, or fall into a class of information likely to damage the security services’ work.
The Law Commission says the “likely to damage” test prevents prosecutions being brought because proving this requires more damaging information to be revealed in court. It wants the harm test to be reduced from “likely” to cause harm to “capable” of causing harm.
The Freedom of Information Act, however, only exempts information about defence, international relations and law enforcement using the threshold of “likely to harm”. Leaking information which is capable of, but very unlikely to, cause harm would therefore potentially become an offence, it is claimed.