Cleveland Police believed to have seized telecoms data to find media source

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  • Cleveland Police blanked FoI on RIPA use against journalists
  • Force did provide internal emails discussing IOCCO's RIPA inquiry
  • Press Gazette asked to delete document released 'erroneously'

Cleveland Police is the fifth UK police force believed to have obtained telecoms data as part of a search for a media source.

The admission comes in a document which was "erroneously" released to Press Gazette in a Freedom of Information Act disclosure.

The force has asked Press Gazette to delete the information, but this publication has decided to there is a strong public interest in disclosing it.

The Metropolitan Police as well as the Essex, Suffolk and Thames Valley forces have previously admitted to using the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act to spy on journalists who were not found to have broken the law.

After these revelations, and the launch of Press Gazette's Save Our Sources campaign, the Interception of Communications Commissioner Office (IOCCO) – which oversees the use of RIPA – began an inquiry into police use of the act against journalists.

This is due to be published in January.

All forces have responded to the IOCCO with data from the past three years, but they have rejected requests under the Freedom of Information Act from Press Gazette for similar information stretching back ten years. And Cleveland Police is among those to have rejected the FoI, citing the interests of national security.

But the force has "erroreously" disclosed a document suggesting it has used RIPA to find a journalistic source.

The revelation came after Press Gazette asked Cleveland – along with all other UK forces – to disclose internal emails relating to the first RIPA FoI question.

As part of its response, Cleveland provided a document discussing the IOCCO inquiry.

The IOCCO asked forces to provide the: "Number of investigations which involve determining if a member of police force or other party have been in contact with a journalist or employee of a newspaper or television company related to news / documentaries in past 3 years."

They were also asked for the: "Number of investigations in past 3 years where a PACE order has been applied for to require disclosure of journalistic material / the identity of a journalistic source." 

An internal Cleveland Police email discussing the request said: "As far as I can recall the Integrity Unit has applied for data relevant to this request on one occasion (one investigation)."

Press Gazette asked the press office for a comment and further information on this, but it refused. And the force has since sought to retract the document.

The FoI department said (their bold): "We supplied you with redacted copies of e-mails however we erroneously included some e-mails that were not within the time scale of your request that is 11th September to 7th October including one that relates to the 'Requirement Letter re the Interception Commissioner’s Inquiry into use of RIPA powers to identify journalistic sources'.

"We have attached a zip file that contains all of the e-mails applicable to your request dated between 11th September and 7th October and would ask that all others are disregarded/deleted as they are NOT relevant to your supplementary Freedom of Information request received by this office on 11th November 2014."

It was revealed earlier this week that the Met Police accessed the phone records of 1,700 News UK employees after being sent the information in error.

Despite the force having no right to the information it analysed it in a spreadsheet and hung on to the records for seven months.

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