If you think the US’ attempts to prosecute and lock away Wikileaks founder Julian Assange for reporting the truth is a unique occurrence among supposedly free Western democracies, think again.
Under the guise of national security, law enforcement agencies across the West are ramping up their efforts to stifle the media.
Here in Oz, federal police have raided the home of a journalist over a 2018 story detailing an alleged government proposal to spy on Australians, sparking concern in the media and among digital rights advocates.
Australian Federal Police (AFP) officers searched the home, computer and mobile phone of Canberra-based News Corp Australia journalist Annika Smethurst.
The story in question had included images of letters between the heads of the Home Affairs and Defence departments, discussing potential new powers for the Australian Signals Directorate (ASD).
The powers would have allowed the ASD’s cyber sleuths to monitor Australian citizens and businesses on home soil, rather than being limited to gathering intelligence on foreigners, the story said.
The AFP said the raid is in relation to ‘alleged unauthorised disclosure of national security information’ and that no arrests are expected on Tuesday.
‘Police will allege the unauthorised disclosure of these specific documents undermines Australia’s national security,’ the agency said in a statement.
News Corp Australia said the raid was ‘outrageous and heavy handed’.
‘This raid demonstrates a dangerous act of intimidation towards those committed to telling uncomfortable truths,’ a spokesperson said.
‘What’s gone on this morning sends clear and dangerous signals to journalists and newsrooms across Australia. This will chill public interest reporting.’
Marcus Strom from the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance said the government was trying to harass and intimidate journalists into withholding information from the public.
‘Yet again, we have an example of a government aiming to punish those who have brought to light vital information. Australians are entitled to know what their governments do in their name,’ Mr Strom said.
Digital Rights Watch said the incident was ‘incredibly worrying’.
‘This is a gross abuse of national security powers — using them to reinforce a culture of secrecy and lack of accountability in our law enforcement apparatus,’ chair Tim Singleton Norton said.
Labor home affairs spokeswoman Kristina Keneally says she learnt of the raid while the party’s leadership was meeting in Brisbane.
‘It is now incumbent upon the government and the AFP to speak more on this matter.’
Defence secretary Greg Moriarty, Home Affairs secretary Mike Pezzullo and ASD director Mike Burgess were quick to release a joint statement after the story was published last year, rejecting its content.
‘There is no proposal to increase the ASD’s powers to collect intelligence on Australians or to covertly access their private data,’ they said.
They said ASD’s cyber security function was being enhanced under laws establishing the organisation as an independent statutory agency within Defence.
But they argued its function entails ‘protecting Australians from cyber-enabled crime and cyber-attacks, and not collecting intelligence on Australians’.
Free Report: Australia’s right to free speech is under attack! Discover how a select group of Australians want to stifle your fundamental right to speak your mind — and what you can do help turn the tide. Download now.
The Australian Tribune with AAP