Concern over freedom of speech as Britain unveils plans to strengthen laws on fake news, treason, official secrecy act
London, Dec. 20, 2019 (AltAfrica)-New treason laws, enforced registration for “foreign agents” and toughened powers under the Official Secrets Act including stringent laws on Fake news are being considered by the British government.
Boris Johnson told parliament that the proposals were “developed to tackle hostile activity conducted by foreign states”.
But Civil liberties groups have raised concerns about the prospect of new treason laws, and questioned how “traitors” would be classified.
Liberty said the proposals were a “serious cause for concern. Creating new criminal offences is rarely justified and existing laws already define hostile state activity extremely broadly,” added advocacy director Clare Collier.
“Attempts to reform the Official Secrets Act are likely to increase secrecy and unjustifiably clamp down on freedom of speech.
“Any government is right to take threats to people’s safety seriously, but these proposals are likely to be a further attempt to increase state power while reducing accountability.”
A Downing Street document said the planned suite of espionage laws would “bring together new and modernised powers, giving our security services the legal authority they need”.
“The government is considering whether to follow allies in adopting a form of foreign agent registration, updating the Official Secrets Acts for the 21st century, as well as the case for updating treason laws,” it added.
Ministers are looking at “like-minded international partners’ legislation”, like the US Foreign Agents Registration Act.
Dating from the Second World War, it requires anyone acting in a “political or quasi-political capacity” – such as lobbyists and consultants – to disclose their relationship with any foreign government.
Russia has used its version of the same law to target critical journalists and human rights activists.
Australia also introduced a similar law to battle soft spying, such as influence operations and financial hacking.