Annika Smethurst in her Canberra home, which was raided by police this week. Picture: Gary Ramage
Annika Smethurst in her Canberra home, which was raided by police this week. Picture: Gary Ramage

Raid journo tells: My private world exposed

IT  was about 9am on Tuesday when I heard a knock at my door. I would usually have a peek through my door's peephole to check who was on the other side, but not this time.

I wrongly assumed it was a house cleaner who was due to arrive that morning. Instead, five plain-clothed AFP officers appeared on my doorstep with a warrant to inspect my home.

I had already been out once that morning and had only been back at home for 15 minutes when they arrived. I wasn't driving my own car that day; they knew that when they arrived.

Once the officers were inside, they called on two extra colleagues with digital expertise to inspect my iPhone, laptop and iPad. I was told to tell them my PIN code so they could download the contents of my phone onto their own computers.

Every website I have visited, text message I sent, and note I kept in my phone was there for them to see.

These things are hardly state secrets, but it was my private world and it was suddenly on display.

The other AFP officers started a physical search of my home.

Newspapers I had kept from the start of my career as a reporter in regional Victoria were inspected, page by page. I can only assume they were looking for any notes I may have made in the margins.

My shorthand folder from my journalism cadetship was also examined. I had forgotten it was there.

 

AFP officers rifle through Ms Smethursts’ kitchen.
AFP officers rifle through Ms Smethursts’ kitchen.

My dining room table was covered in Liberty print fabric which I was using to make patchwork quilts as a surprise for two friends who have recently welcomed new babies. Not a surprise any more.

The officers made small talk and asked about the patchwork tools I used to cut out the squares.

The search continued.

There was a bag of rubbish at my front door which I was about to throw out when the police arrived. Officers went through it.

Paintings were taken off the walls and inspected. More than 50 cookbooks were examined page by page and my laundry basket was inspected.

There was nothing I could do but watch as people I had never met went through my belongings, read my text messages and looked at my to-do lists.

Medical prescriptions, diaries and cards from loved ones all kept in the sanctuary of my own home were on display to people I didn't know at all.

 

Federal police at Annika Smethurst’s home.
Federal police at Annika Smethurst’s home.

My phone, once I eventually got it back, was raging with texts, calls and emails from colleagues around the world wanting me to talk about my experience. Norwegian radio, for some reason, was the first and most persistent.

We elect politicians to work for us. We have a right to know what they are doing in our name - and if they won't tell you, the media should.

Journalists are not above the law, but our democracy relies on brave people standing up to expose the truth - and for journalists to be able to tell these stories without being jailed.

As it stands, it is an offence to communicate classified information. Journalists are given some protections through a "journalism defence" if the information is found to be in the public interest.

This defence may help me stay out of jail, but there are very few protections for public servants who see wrongdoing and wish to expose it.

Gloved officers check the pages of her cookbooks.
Gloved officers check the pages of her cookbooks.


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