Boris Johnson facing questions over police use of RIPA to spy on journalists and lawful confidential sources

London mayor Boris Johnson (pictured: Reuters) is facing questions over why the police obtained the telephone records of a journalist “without his consent, and without any warrant or other court order”.

Johnson ensures the accountability of the Met Police in his role as head of the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime.

He is facing questions from Green Party London Assembly Member and member of the House of Lords Jenny Jones about the revelation that the Met secretly used the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act to obtain the phone records of Sun political editor Tom Newton Dunn and of calls made to The Sun newdesk.

The Met Police has said it believes such use of RIPA is lawful.

But top media law QC Gavin Millar said yesterday that he believes use of RIPA to obtain information about journalists’ sources without recourse to a judge is a clear breach of Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights (freedom of expression).

The Met used the phone records to find and sack three police officers accused of leaking information about the Plebgate affair, even though the Crown Prosecution Service said they had no case to answer.

RIPA can only be used to detect or prevent criminality and neither Tom Newton Dunn nor his alleged sources were found to have broken the law. 

So far the Met has refused to reveal how often it has used RIPA to secretly obtain journalists’ phone records in order to track down confidential sources.

But Press Gazette understands that such methods are believed to have been used by the Met against journalists a number of times in the past.

Jones asked Johnson: "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?"

She also noted that in 2013 the Met Police made 94,778 authorisations for communications data and asked what oversight the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime has over these requests.

She said that under the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act 2014 the Met Police can obtain journalists’ email records and asked: "Please could you confirm if you would support the Metropolitan Police’s use of the these powers in order to obtain journalists email records in cases other than terrorism? If so, please could you list the types of crimes where you would support the use of these powers."

Johnson has to provide an answer to the questions within one week of Mayor's Question Time tomorrow.

Press Gazette has also asked the Mayor's Office of Policing and Crime if it will be taking any action to find out how many times the Met has secretly obtained journalists' phone records in breach of European law.

Press Gazette has launched the Save Our Sources campaign urging the Interception of Communications Commissioner to take action to stop public authorities using RIPA to secretly spy on journalists and their sources.

Sign the petition here.

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