By John Vibes
A BBC journalist recently had his computer confiscated by British police because he was conducting interviews with people the government suspected were terrorists. Journalist Secunder Kermani has been working with BBC’s Newsnight for just over a year and has developed a reputation for obtaining exclusive interviews with Western-born ISIS fighters. This reputation caught the eye of the British government, which used powers granted through the Terrorism Act to confiscate the reporter’s property.
According to a statement from the BBC:
Police obtained an order under the Terrorism Act requiring the BBC to hand over communication between a Newsnight journalist and a man in Syria who had publicly identified himself as an IS member. The man had featured in Newsnight reports and was not a confidential source.
Newsnight editor Ian Katz said these types of confiscations could prevent reporters from being able to cover related issues.
“While we would not seek to obstruct any police investigation we are concerned that the use of the Terrorism Act to obtain communication between journalists and sources will make it very difficult for reporters to cover this issue of critical public interest,” Katz said.
Thames Valley Police responded: “The BBC attended the hearing in August and did not contest the application or decision of the court. Police have since returned the laptop that was the subject of this order,” they said.
The government’s use of these these powers to target the press has far reaching implications for journalists and their sources. It will now be even more difficult for reporters to work with whistleblowers and other confidential sources because it could be a liability to end up on a reporter’s hard drive. Just because the ISIS members in question were not confidential sources does not mean legitimate confidential sources were not exposed when the government confiscated the hard drive.
“There’s a chilling effect – I know material has not been published or broadcast because of anxiety to protect sources. We are talking notes, emails, video footage, audio [being seized]. I don’t think we are hearing the accounts of why young people are going [to Syria]. The debate has not been advanced by informed coverage because the media is in fear of the Terrorism Act,” media lawyer Gavin Millar told the Independent.
“It [sic] think it makes it very difficult to do proper reporting in this territory when the cops can come in and get orders for material as easily as they can. The police have the authority to seize anything that they think will be of use to them in a terror investigation and that’s quite a wide net,” another BBC source said.
A similar situation occurred two years ago when David Miranda, partner of Glenn Greenwald, was detained at Heathrow Airport under counter-terrorism powers. Miranda is still in the process of appealing the use of counter-terrorism authority during his detention.
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John Vibes joined Anti-Media as an independent journalist in October of 2014. His topics of interest include agorism, anarchism, consciousness, the Drug War, and spirituality. Born in Philadelphia, he currently resides in Maryland.