Fri 12th May, 2pm: Judith Townend (Sussex) – Legal and technological vulnerabilities for journalistic sources and whistleblowers in a pre/post Brexit UK

We are delighted to announce another discussion group event which will take place on Friday 12th May at 2pm in Room 9.01 (the Neil MacCormick Room) of David Hume Tower. Our speaker is Judith Townend, lecturer in media and information law at the University of Sussex. Judith was previously director of the Information Law and Policy Centre at the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies, to which she remains affiliated, as an associate research fellow. Her research is broadly concerned with freedom of expression and access to information, and current interests include source/whistleblower protection, as well as access to courts and open justice.

Legal and technological vulnerabilities for journalistic sources and whistleblowers in a pre/post Brexit UK  

Disclosing information to the media or an NGO is often a last resort for a confidential source: an action taken when concerns have been ignored internally within organisations, or where there seems to be no other avenue open to them. It is not a decision taken lightly and, depending on the nature of the disclosure and the individual’s position, could risk their employment and have a knock-on impact on their finances, health and personal life. The weaker the legal and technological protection for communication between journalists and other relevant actors (such as NGOs), the less likely it is that an individual will come forward, and this has worrying consequences for protecting the public interest in a functioning democracy. 

Recent research at the IALS’ Information Law and Policy Centre, supported by Guardian News and Media, brought to the fore practical issues faced by journalists/NGOs working on important topics in the public interest. We identified a hybrid of legal and technological vulnerabilities threatening source confidentiality and secure communication. In light of these threats, we made a number of recommendations to practitioners and policymakers with view to improving the protections for sources in the UK; we raised particular concern with the Investigatory Powers Act 2016 and the Digital Economy Bill 2016-17. The same month we launched our report in Parliament, another issue sprang up: the possibility of new legislation to reform the law on Official Secrets, as proposed by the Law Commission in its consultation closing in May.  

This presentation offers some of our key findings and discusses them in the context of a politically uncertain environment: Brexit ‘unknowns’, the shadow of Donald Trump (who has declared ‘war’ on anonymous sources), and ahead of the UK General Election on 8th June 2017.

The talk will be followed by a Q&A section and refreshments will be provided. All students and staff are welcome and no registration is required.