Journalists’ Sources, Surveillance and Whistleblowing

Maintaining the freedom of the media in the digital age has become increasingly complicated by the emergence of widespread legal powers which allow for the collection and retention of communications data by public authorities. The use of these legal powers by state actors to access such information has not only led to concerns about the surveillance of journalists but also to campaigns to protect the identities of journalists’ sources and whistleblowers acting in the public interest.   

Several proposed and recently passed pieces of legislation are relevant to these issues including the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, the Investigatory Powers Act 2016, and most recently the Digital Economy Bill 2016-17. The Centre’s research in this area is based on consultation with investigative journalists, media organisations, relevant NGOs, media lawyers and specialist researchers. 

In 2017, Associate Research Fellows Dr Judith Townend and Dr Richard Danbury published a report entitled, ‘Protecting Sources and Whistleblowers in the Digital Age’ which was launched at the House of Lords. The report considered how journalists can reduce threats to whistleblowing and examined the rights and responsibilities of journalists, whistleblowers and lawmakers. The report also made a number of positive recommendations for policymakers, journalists, NGOs and researchers. The research was supported by Guardian News and Media. In addition, the Centre has published a number of open access resources including a timeline, a log of relevant news coverage and a reading list for those interested in researching these issues. 

Acknowledgements: to Dr Andrew Scott (LSE) and Gillian Phillips (Guardian News and Media) for their input to the report (though errors remain the authors’ own); and to Dr Daniel Bennett, Jenna Corderoy and Dr Aljosha Karim Schapals for additional research assistance.

IALS Resources

External Resources 

Past IALS Events

  • Protecting Sources and Whistleblowers in the Digital Age. Report Launch. With Judith Townend (University of Sussex), Richard Danbury (De Montfort University), House of Lords, UK, 22 February 2017.
  • Workshop: Protecting Sources and Whistleblowers in the Digital Age, 25 investigative journalists, representatives from relevant NGOs and media organisations, media lawyers, IALS, London, 16 September 2016
  • Whose Investigatory Power Is It Anyway? Security, Source Protection and Surveillance, an event held in collaboration with the Media Society that considered the debate over investigatory powers within and between UK intelligence agencies, government departments and media organisations after the publication of the Anderson Review. With Kate Allen, (Director, Amnesty International UK), Rt Hon Dominic Grieve QC MP, (Former Attorney General), Ewen MacAskill, (Defence and Intelligence Correspondent, The Guardian), and Jessica Simor QC, (Barrister, Matrix Chambers), IALS, London, UK, 9 October 2015
  • Draft Investigatory Powers Bill ad hoc Research Group, Meetings and Review, Autumn 2015.


Page last updated: 28th February 2017