The court’s ruling in Nicky Hager’s favour greatly affects the general public because of the vital role journalists play in sustaining a functioning democracy.
The High Court today ruled police unlawfully searched Hager’s house in the hunt for identity of the hacker who supplied information for the Dirty Politics book.
Media law expert Professor Ursula Cheer explained why the ruling was not only important for journalists but the public too.
‘For citizens to be able to understand what is going on, who is governing them and who is spending money on their behalf and whether people are behaving according to the rule of law and all that – then journalists need to be out there holding power to account’ Ms Cheer said.
‘Often they have to get information from people who don’t want their identity to be made public and those people probably wouldn’t give their information if they thought their identity would be made public – so that is what confidentiality of sources is all about.
Join the dots and journalists are doing a job on our behalf because we don’t have time to investigate and find out what is going on’.
Ms Cheer said it set a precedent about was acceptable and unacceptable police behaviour around seeking warrants to raid journalists’ homes.
We know this because it emerged this week that Westpac handed over 10 months of data from three of author Nicky Hager’s accounts when police were investigating the hacking of Cameron Slater’s blog and social media accounts at the end of 2014 – willingly complying with detectives who simply explained it was part of their investigation into ‘criminal offending’.
There is nothing whatsoever to suggest the criminal offending they were investigating was anything to do with Nicky Hager.
Hager began the investigation as a ‘suspect’ but became simply a ‘witness’; he is not accused of stealing anything.
He did what good journalists do on a daily basis – was given information on nefarious wrong-doing that he believed the public needed to know.
Then he published it.
He’s been treated extraordinarily for a witness in such a case – had his house raided for ten hours – had personal files uplifted – been wire-tapped – had his records requested from as many as 20 different companies and sources – and been vilified by the government.
But whether you like Nicky Hager or not – whether you agree with what he set out to do or not – there is something rotten about the way the police acted in the case –
– and something profoundly out of order about the way Westpac Bank rolled over and gave away Hager’s bank records and other personal information on the strength of an unsupported request by police –
– without even telling their client they were doing so – which is also something they are required to do.
Detectives investigating the Dirty Politics hacker Rawshark sought the banking – telephone and travel records of author and journalist Nicky Hager without any search order or other legal power.
Court records show Westpac – the government’s banker for 26 years – handed over ‘almost 10 months of transactions from Mr Hager’s three accounts’ at the request of detectives investigating the hacking of Whale Oil blogger Cameron Slater’s email and social media accounts.
Other companies that were asked for Hager’s private details told police to come back with a court order – which would have legally obliged them to surrender the information.