BBC monitored 37 staff emails as part of five leak probes - but rejects FoI for more info for fear of identifying targets

The BBC monitored 37 staff email accounts in two years as part of five investigations into suspected leaks to other media organisations. But the corporation has refused to disclose any further information for fear of identifying the targeted employees. (Picture: Shutterstock)

The corporation was accused of treating staff like "the enemy" after Press Gazette revealed in January that 148 staff email accounts were "accessed" or "monitored" in 2013 and 2014.

Included in this figure, released under the Freedom of Information Act, were 46 accessed to comply with Data Protection and FoI rules, 32 for disciplinary enquiries and 24 relating to fraud investigations.

In 2014, 27 accounts were accessed by the BBC Investigations Unit over suspected information leaks, and ten more were targeted for this reason in 2013.

Subsequently, the BBC revealed via FoI that these 37 email monitors related to five investigations into suspected leaks to the media. This FoI said that "37 staff email accounts were monitored by the BBC Investigations Service in relation to 5 investigations into information leaks occurring over 2013 and 2014. All 5 incidents investigated were as a result of unauthorised publication of BBC data to other media organisations."

The corporation, though, has rejected a further Press Gazette FoI to reveal what "data" was suspected to have been inappropriately released to the media, which stories these resulted in and whether any of the people whose email addresses were monitored had been proven to have leaked.

The BBC rejected the request, saying: "Whilst we were able to provide the data you requested in your earlier requests, we are withholding information you request above, because due to the nature of the information, there is a real likelihood that release of such detail could lead to the identification of some, if not all persons, in the various parts of the business affected.

"In addition, it is not the policy of the BBC to divulge disciplinary action or lines of enquiry where that may lead to the identification of the person or persons involved.

"Under section 40(2) (personal information) of the Act. Under section 40(2) of the Act, personal information about identifiable living individuals is exempt if disclosure to a third party would breach one or more principles in the Data Protection Act 1998.

"The individuals concerned would not expect their personal data names and positions in the BBC to be disclosed to a third party. To do so would be unfair; therefore, disclosure would breach the First Data Protection Principle (fair and lawful processing)."

Press Gazette will be appealing the FoI rejection.

When disclosing the fact that 148 staff email accounts were monitored or accessed in 2013 and 2014, the BBC said: “There are strict guidelines in place covering when access is permissible. The BBC very rarely monitors staff email accounts and only as a last resort where exceptional circumstances indicate criminal activity or disciplinary behaviour meaning it is a justifiable, necessary and proportionate action.”

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