London mayor Boris Johnson is to be asked whether he will ensure the Metropolitan Police seeks judicial approval to access journalists’ phone records rather than using the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act.
Johnson told the London Press Club Ball on 9 October that “we are going to have to insist in future the police will not be able to see a journalist’s phone records without some kind of prior judicial approval”.
As Mayor of London Johnson has responsibility for holding the Met Police to account (the Mayor's Office for Policing and Crime replaced the London police authority in 2012).
He is to be questioned over police surveillance of journalists by London Assembly Member Jenny Jones, of the Green Party, at City Hall tomorrow afternoon.
It comes after Johnson initially defended the Met’s use of RIPA to obtain journalists’ phone records when Jones quizzed him on the topic last month.
Following the revelation that the Met had grabbed the phone records of The Sun news desk and political editor, Tom Newton Dunn, in its Plebgate leak investigation, Jones asked: "Are you concerned that the Metropolitan Police obtained the telephone records of a journalist without his consent, and without any warrant or other court order, despite laws which entitle journalists to keep their sources confidential?"
In a written response, Johnson said he couldn't comment on operational issues but that he was broadly supportive of the Met's use of RIPA and that in any case he felt sufficient safeguards were in place.
On 7 October, Johnson defended the Met’s use of RIPA against The Sun before admitting: “I haven’t studied it, I’m afraid to say, in great detail.” Despite Johnson saying he was now “concerned” about the issue, LBC co-host Nick Ferrari said he was “staggered” by the former journalist’s attitude towards RIPA being used against journalists.
Two days later, Johnson performed a full U-turn by telling the London Press Club Ball he wants police to have to seek “judicial approval” to obtain journalists’ phone records.
Jones will ask Johnson tomorrow: “Following your comments at the London Press Club Ball on 9 October that "we are going to have to insist in future the police will not be able to see a journalist’s phone records without some kind of prior judicial approval" will you now ensure that the Metropolitan Police Service seeks judicial approval to access phone records rather than use RIPA 2000?”
Since the revelation in early September that the Met had obtained The Sun's phone records, it has emerged that RIPA has been used against journalists from The Mail on Sunday, Ipswich Star and Milton Keynes Citizen.
Press Gazette's Save Our Sources campaign, calling on the Interception of Communications Commissioner to ensure RIPA is not used by public authorities to obtain journalists' phone records, has so far been signed by more than 1,200.
And an Early Day Motion calling for action to stop police from using RIPA to find journalists sources has been signed by 18 MPs.