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Australians Fearful Police Raids on Reporters Muzzling Media

Three of four Australians are worried that Federal Police raids on journalists and a growing clampdown on reporters digging into alleged government wrongdoing and secrecy is a threat to press freedom.

That was the result of a poll by the charity Digital Rights Watch which also showed Australians are anxious about metadata and encryption legislation being reviewed by a parliamentary joint committee on intelligence and security, said The Guardian Australia.

Police raids on the home of Annika Smethurst, an investigative reporter for the Herald Sun in Melbourne, who was reporting on secret government plans to spy on citizens, and the national broadcaster Australian Broadcasting Corporation for revealing alleged misconduct by Australian troops in Afghanistan alarmed journalists and led to calls for a parliamentary inquiry.

An Ombudsman’s report also found Western Australian police twice obtained invalid warrants targeting journalists’ data. The Department of Immigration received data outside the authority’s jurisdiction in 42 cases, which Police Chief Roy Johnson passed off as “an administrative oversight,” the Guardian said.

Labor’s Home Affairs spokeswoman Kristina Keneally said the report shows metadata powers “have been abused to allow illegal searches and to target journalists,” but what critics said is Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s assault on journalism hasn’t hurt his popularity.

A Newspoll published in The Australian showed his Liberal-National coalition leading Labor, 53-47 percent, the first survey since his stunning win in May when he was expected to lose. Since then, his government has gone on the attack against reporters who’ve had access to secret government documents, police frantic to find the sources.

The secretive Australian Signals Directorate said the raid on Smethurst was justified to protect national security, a reason frequently cited to justify going after journalists and the media. The public is now more anxious than ever about the tactics.

Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton said the government intends to get tougher to protect national security. Critics claim that almost any activity could be put under that umbrella and made off limits to the public and press.

The poll of 1,089 voters asked about three developments relating to enforcement agencies’ access to digital information “in the interest of national security,” and it showed they weren’t agreeing with the government’s arguments.

Asked about the government making 350,000 requests for metadata since 2015 laws required telecommunications companies to keep records of every Australian, 76 percent said was worrying to them.

Since December, 2018, police have had the authority to break into encrypted communications systems such as Whatsapp, Messenger and Viber, giving the government further power, according to critics, to intrude on privacy rights – in the national interest.

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