Leakers Face Tough Crackdown Worldwide

Jul 19, 2006 1:06pm

All over the world, governments are cracking down on leakers and the journalists who publish the leaked information. In the United Kingdom, two former government officials, including David Keogh, a British cabinet spokesman, are facing trial accused of leaking a memo detailing a conversation in which Prime Minister Tony Blair is trying to persuade President Bush not to bomb Al Jazeera’s headquarters in Qatar. Britain’s attorney general pursued the leak and has charged the officials with violating Britain’s Official Secrets Act. The men face two years in prison if convicted.  But unlike the United States, where journalists are not prosecuted for publishing classified information as long as they obtained the information legally, journalists in the U.K. can also be prosecuted under their nation’s Secrets Act.  Britain’s attorney general has warned that any news organization continuing to publish details from the leaked memo will also face prosecution. Nicholas Jones, author of Trading Secrets, about the treatment of classified information in the U.K., says his country’s Official Secrets Act leaves a chilling effect on freedom of the press. "There’s no doubt that the British Official Secrets Act is a very draconian measure, a very severe measure," says Jones.  "And there’s no doubt that when people are charged under that Act, it does send a shockwave through them and through their friends and supporters." Several other countries known for free press also have ongoing leak investigations, including Germany, Switzerland and the Netherlands.  Most of the investigations are related to leaked classified information regarding the Iraq war or the war on terror. "There’s been an upsurge in leaking in Britain in the last few years," says Jones.  "And I think it’s largely due to the aggressive action which Britain has been taking along with America in Iraq." But governments should be careful, he says, because prosecuting these leaks can lead to more classified information getting out. And if public perception is that the leaked information was something the public had a right to know, getting a conviction will be nearly impossible. "The difficulty for the government is that if they want to go public with these cases…lawyers who represent such people fight these cases on the ground that it is in the public interest," says Jones. "If they demand the publication of all the documents, this of course, can make it even more difficult for the government."

You are using an outdated version of Internet Explorer. Please click here to upgrade your browser in order to comment.
blog comments powered by Disqus