Fact check: Use of metadata in relation to journalists

Release Date: Tuesday, March 17 2015, 02:34 PM

In a statement released yesterday, the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA) claimed that AFP Commissioner Andrew Colvin confirmed the AFP had “been repeatedly asked to hunt down journalists’ sources by accessing journalists’ metadata and he confirmed that it is doing so. The Data Retention Bill will simply formalise these activities with no regard to the press freedom implications and presumably encourage at least 20 government agencies to go trawling through journalists’ metadata.”

This is inaccurate and a distortion of the comments made.

Commissioner Colvin said that over the past 18 months, the AFP has received 13 referrals relating to the alleged unauthorised disclosure of Commonwealth information in breach of section 70 of the Crimes Act.

This offence specifically criminalises the activity of Commonwealth officials who have released Commonwealth information in contravention of their obligations, not journalists.

In the overwhelming majority of these investigations, no need was identified to conduct a metadata telecommunications inquiry on a journalist. AFP requests for accessing a journalist’s metadata are rare.