Government advisers accused of 'full-frontal attack' on whistleblowers

The government’s legal advisers have been accused of launching a “full-frontal attack” on whistleblowers over proposals to radically increase prison sentences for revealing state secrets and prosecute journalists.

Downing Street believes a major overhaul of existing secrecy legislation is necessary because it has become outdated in a digital age when government employees can easily disclose vast amounts of sensitive information.

Draft recommendations from the legal advisers say the maximum prison sentence for leakers should be raised, potentially from two to 14 years, and the definition of espionage should be expanded to include obtaining sensitive information, as well as passing it on.

The moves have prompted concern from whistleblowers that draconian punishments could further discourage officials from coming forward in the public interest. One critic said the changes were “squarely aimed at the Guardian and Edward Snowden”.

Meanwhile, media organisations and civil rights groups have expressed alarm at the Law Commission’s assertion that they were consulted over the plans, when they say no substantial discussions took place.

The Guardian, human rights group Liberty and campaign body Open Rights Group are among a series of organisations listed by the Law Commission as having been consulted on the draft proposals, but all three say they were not meaningfully involved in the process.

The Law Commission says on its website that in making the proposals, it…

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