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Surveillance laws threaten press freedom: Law Society

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Freedom of the press could be threatened by new surveillance laws before the South Australian parliament, the Law Society says.

The Surveillance Devices Bill would require journalists to go to court before publishing audio or video collected without the knowledge of the person being recorded. News organisations would have to demonstrate that publishing the material was in the public interest.

“The Law Society has significant concerns that the law would limit the ability of journalists, particularly investigative journalists, to report on matters that are in the public interest,” Law Society President-Elect Rocco Perrotta said.

“This does not mean the media should be immune to laws that regulate the use of surveillance devices. Journalists should, like everyone else, be held to account for serious and unjustified invasions of privacy.

“However, where there is a substantial basis to believe that information of significant public importance may be gathered, a public interest exemption should come into play.”

The Law Society is also concerned that the bill would give the Police Commissioner the power to make tracking and surveillance warrants.

Currently, only the court can issue a warrant to covertly track people using surveillance devices.

But Attorney-General John Rau rejected the claims, saying the Law Society had misunderstood the bill in question.

“Have they actually actually read it? It suggests either they haven’t read it, or if they have, they need to read it again,” he told InDaily.

“The Law Society is, in relation to this, actually totally self-contradictory, because they’re saying the law is too tough on the media because the public interest needs to be demonstrated before they can publish, and in the same sentence, they’re concerned that the Police Commissioner might be able to do something they’re happy for the media to do.”

He also rejected reports animal rights activists wouldn’t be able to expose animal cruelty under the new legislation.

“All this nonsense about not being able to prosecute people who are being cruel to animals – complete rubbish,” he said.

“Somebody could bug a place to get images or sounds or something to lead to a prosecution under the protection of animals legislation, no problem.

“If you want to go around bugging people, you can do it as an individual to protect your own personal interests – in your legal interests – that’s fine. You can even do it in the public interest. And you can provide that as an example to police.

“What they wouldn’t be able to do is to take a photograph of the Duchess of Cambridge sunbaking in her backyard from 500 metres away with a telephoto lens and publish that, because that is not in the public interest.”

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