Journalist’s union condemns AFP trawling Guardian journalist’s metadata without warrant

The union representing journalists has condemned the revelation that the Australian Federal Police secretly sought to identify a Guardian journalist’s sources by trawling through his metadata.

Guardian Australia today revealed that national security reporter Paul Farrell’s metadata was accessed without a warrant in order to identify his sources.

Screen Shot 2016-04-14 at 3.19.17 pmThe reveal came after the Australian Federal Police confirmed to the Privacy Commissioner that it had sought “subscriber checks” – access to telecommunications account details – and email records relating to Farrell, which were subsequently revealed through the Freedom of Information Act.

Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance (MEAA) CEO, Paul Murphy, said: “It comes down to this: Journalists writing legitimate news stories in the public interest now have police trawling through their private metadata all because a government agency is embarrassed about a leak. In the process, the rights of journalists are trampled on.

“The public’s right to know what governments do in our name is being overridden by public servants seeking to cover up a scandal in order to persecute and prosecute a whistleblower. It makes a mockery of open and transparent government.

“This news, coming as it does just weeks before UNESCO World Press Freedom Day on May 3, shows the contempt being shown for the principles of press freedom.”

While the admission is seen as an attack of press freedom, the AFP noted that it had not accessed Farrell’s record after October 2015, when the laws changed to require a warrant before accessing such records.

Back in February, Farrell revealed the AFP had created a file of 200 pages while attempting to identify and prosecute his confidential sources in news reports he wrote on Australia’s asylum seeker policies.

twitter paul farrell guardian story

In a tweet Farrell described the move as an “outrageous invasion of my privacy and a gross interference with press freedom in Australia.”

MEAA CEO, Murphy, said: “Because the Government has sought to shroud its asylum seeker policy in secrecy and deny the public’s right to know, the AFP is being used to trawl through journalists’ email records and carry out ‘subscriber checks’ to discover everyone who has contacted the journalist.meaa paul farrell guardian tweet

“Such a process not only seeks to identify the confidential source in question but also threatens to compromise every one of the journalist’s sources,” he said.

“MEAA will be writing to the Prime Minister and the Minister for Communications to again complain about these assaults on press freedom,” he said.

Comment has been sought from the AFP.

Nic Christensen 


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