News & Updates

As the Crime (Overseas Production Orders) Bill reached its third reading stage in the House of Commons on 30thJanuary 2019, critics have become increasingly vocal.

The aims of the bill are to enable law enforcement agencies and prosecutors to apply through the UK courts for a court order requiring service providers outside the UK to produce or grant access to electronic data for the purposes of investigating and prosecuting serious crimes. An application for an overseas production order could only be granted if the judge was satisfied that the data was likely to be of substantial value to the criminal proceedings or investigation for which it was being requested, and that production of the data would be in the public interest.(1)

Whilst these aims may seem reasonable at first glance, the bill has faced widespread criticism from eight UK NGOs, including the National Union of Journalists (NUJ), News Media Association, Reporters Without Borders and a number of press freedom groups.

The NUJ warned that the “looming legislation aimed at tackling crime overseas would create fresh dangers for journalists and compromise press freedom.”

“Despite the union’s repeated advice on the dangers contained in the government's Crime (Overseas Production Orders) Bill, the government has persisted.”

“The Crime (Overseas Production Orders) Bill will permit the UK government to allow foreign governments to apply for access to information stored in the UK. These new powers will not be accompanied by safeguards for journalists working in the UK or journalists living in exile.”(2)

Under the current Police and Criminal Evidence Act ('PACE') journalistic material, which includes television programmes/un-broadcast rushes, is given special protection from seizure by the police. If the police want to seize such material, they must apply to a judge. Normally, the holders of the material, that is the broadcaster/programme-makers are entitled to make representations to the judge and argue against disclosure if they so wish.(3)

As reported by the Press Gazette, a Home Office spokesperson said: “The tools available to our law enforcement must be fit for the online world in which we live. Ninety-nine per cent of data linked to child abuse is held overseas and the faster we get it the quicker we can stop abusers.

“This legislation – where an international data access agreement is in place – would give police and prosecutors quicker and easier access to vital electronic data held outside the UK.

“We have listened to concerns and made sure that journalists will be informed in advance of an application being made to the court. This will give them the opportunity to make representations to the judge at the time of the application.”

Update: The full debate, accurately referred to as ‘Ping Pong’ was scheduled for 11th February 2019.(4) Subsequently the bill has been given royal assent as from 12th February and formally become an Act of Parliament.


Author: Edward Beaver February 9 2019
Updated: February 13th 2019

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