Liberal MP threatens journo with metadata probe

Assistant infrastructure minister Jamie Briggs Tweets up a storm

Mere weeks after Australia's government passed its metadata retention laws, a junior minister has - perhaps jokingly - threatened to use them against a journalist.

The minister in question is Jamie Briggs, member for the South Australian seat of Mayo and assistant minister for infrastructure and regional development.

Briggs first tweeted his displeasure with Fairfax Media scribe Peter Martin. Crikey writer Bernard Keene responded to that Tweet, at which point Briggs responded with the following*.

Briggs has provided no context for the Tweet.

Senior government figures have been at pains to reassure the public that metadata retention will not lead to surveillance of ordinary citizens unless they are suspected of involvement in serious crimes. Australia's recently-passed metadata retention laws also included provisions to protect journalists' sources, to ensure the new law does not stop whistleblowers. Another of the law's provisions makes it an offence to reveal the existence of a warrant seeking journalists' metadata.

Mentioning easy access to media metadata for members of parliament therefore represents a significant counter-narrative.

+Comment Briggs looks to have indulged himself in what he will perceive as a joke, during banter with journalists widely considered to be opponents of the current government. But the joke will, and deserves to, fall flat. Australians have been told metadata retention is necessary to stop terrorism and sex crimes against children, and that journalists are worthy of limited exceptions.

The mere suggestion that government could use metadata as a way to smear its opponents runs counter to those assurances.

Briggs' Tweets will doubtless be seized upon by opponents of metadata retention, who can argue he has revealed the government's true intentions. Briggs deserves whatever mess follows: he should know better than to trivialise this topic. ®

* Captured here as a screen shot in case Briggs deletes them.

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