Every UK national newspaper editor urges Prime Minister to stop RIPA spying on journalists

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Every national newspaper editor has backed the Press Gazette Save Our Sources campaign and signed a joint letter of protest to Prime Minister David Cameron over police spying on journalists' phone records.

Around 100 editors have signed a letter co-ordinated by Press Gazette and the Society of Editors to warn that the draft code of practice on use of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act puts journalists' sources at risk.

Politicians promised new controls in the code, but instead the new draft guidance states that police can continue to secretly view journalists' phone records provided they give “special consideration” to the “proportionality” of doing so.

The joint letter (full text below), submitted as part of the RIPA code consulation, states that the draft code “provides wholly inadequate protection for journalists’ sources”.

And it warns that there is nothing in the new code to stop police again targeting the phone records of journalists in order to uncover lawful sources, as they did with The Sun.

The draft code appears to encourage police to access journalists' phone records by stating that they are not “privileged information".

The letter states: “The mere fact a public official has contacted a newspaper is highly privileged information.

"That an individual has contacted a lawyer or doctor tells us little. But the fact they have contacted a journalist identifies them as a source and exposes them to recrimination.

"It is in everyone’s interest that the state recognises the over-arching importance of protecting the confidentiality of journalists’ sources.

"Public sector whistleblowers will not come forward to journalists in future if law enforcement agencies have the power to view journalists’ phone records at will.”

The letter states that police requests for journalists' phone records should need the approval of a judge.

As well as every national newspaper, the protest letter has been signed editors representing most regional newspaper groups, news agencies and broadcasters. Head of Sky News John Riley, Mail Online publisher Martin Clarke, Private Eye editor Ian Hislop and director of BBC World Service Fran Unsworth are among the signatories.

Society of Editors executive director Bob Satchell said: “Politicians say that terrorism laws should be used where relevant and proportionate. The police have used RIPA when it was neither. Journalism is not terrorism nor criminal.

“A powerful group of senior national, regional and local editors and broadcasters who frequently have different opinions are united in their concerns about RIPA.

 “This is not about terrorism it is about the police using a law for purposes Parliament never intended.

“Ministers should take note.”

Press Gazette editor Dominic Ponsford said: “It is unprecedented in my experience for every national newspaper editor to agree on anything. So it is highly significant that here they have said with once voice that RIPA needs tougher controls to protect journalists' sources.

“Giving police the ability to secretly view the phone records of law-abiding journalists is not compatible with an open democratic society.”

A further 1,649 individuals, mostly journalists, have signed the Press Gazette Save Our Sources petition which is also to be submitted today as part of the RIPA consultation. 

The consultation on the Acquisition and Disclosure of Communications Data Code of Practice closes tomorrow (20 January).

The signatories:

  • Stig Abell, Managing Editor, The Sun
  • Perry Austin-Clarke, Group Editor, Newsquest Yorkshire
  • Lionel Barber, Editor, Financial Times
  • Sam Barcroft, Owner, Barcroft Media
  • Neil Benson, Editorial Director Regionals, Trinity Mirror
  • Bob Bounds, Editor, Medway Messenger
  • David Bourn, Editorial Director, Scottish Provincial Press
  • Martin Breen, Editor, Sunday Life
  • Christine Buckley, Editor, The Journalist
  • Simon Bucks, Associate Editor, Sky News
  • Tony Carlin, Editor, Evening Times
  • Ian Carter, Editorial Director, the KM Group
  • Denis Cassidy, President, National Association of Press Agencies
  • Martin Clarke, Publisher, Mail Online
  • Pete Clifton, Editor-in-Chief, Press Association
  • Paul Connolly, Readers Editor, Belfast Telegraph
  • Nick Constable, Director, West Coast News
  • Jason Cowley, Editor, New Statesman
  • Allan Crow, Editor, Fife Free Press
  • Paul Dacre, Editor, Daily Mail and Associated Group Editor in Chief
  • Bart Dickson, Editor, Pressteam Scotland
  • David Dinsmore, Editor, The Sun
  • Ted Ditchburn, Managing Director, North News and Pictures
  • Noel Doran, Editor, The Irish News
  • Oliver Duff, Editor, The i Paper
  • Denise Eaton, Editor, Kent Messenger
  • Chris Elliott, Readers Editor, The Guardian
  • Lloyd Embley, Editor-in-Chief, Trinity Mirror
  • Robin Esser, Executive Managing Editor, Daily Mail
  • Chris Evans, Director of Content and Editor, The Daily Telegraph
  • Kate Farrington, Director, West Coast News
  • Lynne Fernquest, Editor, Bath News & Media
  • Charles Garside, Assistant Editor, Daily Mail
  • Liz Gerard, Editor, SubScribe
  • Mike Gilson, Editor, Belfast Telegraph
  • Sarah Goldthorpe, Editor, Soldier magazine
  • Alison Gow, Digital Innovations Editor, Trinity Mirror Regionals
  • Toby Granville, Group Editor, Daily Echo & Dorset Echo
  • Geordie Greig, Editor, The Mail On Sunday
  • Jonathan Grun, Emeritus Editor, Press Association
  • David Helliwell, Editor, News & Star/The Cumberland News
  • Ian Hislop, Editor, Private Eye
  • Neil Hodgkinson, Editor, Hull Daily Mail
  • David Holdsworth, Controller, BBC English Regions
  • Michael Jermey, Director of News and Current Affairs, ITV
  • Peter John, Group Editor, Newsquest Worcester/Stourbridge
  • Rachael Jolley, Editor, Index on Censorship
  • Mark Jones, Editor, Gazette Newspapers
  • David Jordan, Director of Editorial Policy and Standards, BBC
  • Gary Lawrence, Group Editor, Swindon Advertiser
  • Mark Leech, Offside Sports Photography
  • Michael Leidig, Editor, Central European News
  • Luke Lewis, Editor, Buzzfeed UK
  • Lisa Markwell, Editor, Independent on Sunday
  • Leigh Marles, Editor, Wirral Globe
  • Donald Martin, Editor-in-Chief, DC Thomson Newspapers
  • John Mulholland, Editor, The Observer
  • Ian Murray, Editor-in-Chief, Southern Daily Echo
  • Dawn Neesom, Editor, Daily Star
  • Victoria Newton, Editor, The Sun on Sunday
  • Rachel Oldroyd, Managing Editor, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism
  • Barrie Phillips-Jones, Editorial Director, NWN Media
  • Dominic Ponsford, Editor, Press Gazette
  • Amol Rajan, Editor, The Independent
  • Alan Rusbridger, Editor-in-Chief, Guardian News & Media
  • John Ryley, Head of Sky News
  • Gerry Sammon, Editor, Rochdale Observer, Middleton Guardian, Heywood Advertiser
  • Sarah Sands, Editor, Evening Standard
  • Mike Sassi, Editor, Nottingham Post
  • Bob Satchwell, Executive Director, Society of Editors
  • Jason Seiken, Editor-in-Chief, Telegraph Media Group
  • Moira Sleight, Editor, Methodist Recorder
  • Chris Smith, UK Editor, Digiday
  • Shailesh Solanki, Editor, Eastern Eye
  • Paul Staines, Editor, Guido Fawkes’ Blog
  • Jon Steafel, Deputy Editor, Daily Mail
  • Ian Stewart, Editor, The Scotsman and Scotland on Sunday
  • Beverly Thomas, Managing Editor, Cambrian News Ltd
  • Darren Thwaites, Editor-in-Chief, Trinity Mirror North East
  • Martin Townsend, Editor, Sunday Express
  • Richard Trinder, Managing Editor, The Yorkshire Times
  • Catherine Turnbull, Editor, Haverhill Echo
  • Nick Turner, Head of digital content development, Cumbrian Newspapers
  • Fran Unsworth, Director, BBC World Service Group
  • Kevin Ward, Editor, South Wales Argus
  • John Wellington, Managing Editor, Mail on Sunday
  • Neil White, Editor in Chief, Local World Derbyshire & East Staffordshire
  • Hugh Whittow, Editor, Daily Express
  • Doug Wills, Managing Editor, Evening Standard and Independent titles
  • Giles Winn, Editor, The Murnaghan Programme, Sky News
  • Richard Wintle, Editor, Calyx News Agency
  • John Witherow, Editor, The Times
  • Peter Wright, Editor Emeritus, Associated Newspapers
  • Ted Young, Editor, Metro

The letter in full:

We, the undersigned, believe that the Acquisition and Disclosure of Communications Data Code of Practice as drafted provides wholly inadequate protection for journalists’ sources.

The revelation that the Metropolitan Police and other forces have used the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act to view the phone records of The Sun and its political editor and other journalists in order to identify and punish lawful police sources has caused widespread alarm across the journalism industry.

The new code appears to do very little which would stop a repeat of such abuse of RIPA.

The Act was intended for tackling serious crime such as terrorism but it is clearly being used by police in relation to relatively minor crimes.

The new code states: “Communications data is not subject to any form of professional privilege – the fact a communication took place does not disclose what was discussed, considered or advised.”

The mere fact a public official has contacted a newspaper is highly privileged information.

That an individual has contacted a lawyer or doctor tells us little. But the fact they have contacted a journalist identifies them as a source and exposes them to recrimination.

It is in everyone’s interest that the state recognises the over-arching importance of protecting the confidentiality of journalists’ sources.

Public sector whistleblowers will not come forward to journalists in future if law enforcement agencies have the power to view journalists’ phone records at will The new guidelines merely state that the degree of interference with privacy “may be higher where the communications data being sought relates to a person who is a member of a profession that handles privileged or otherwise confidential information (such as a medical doctor, lawyer, journalist, Member of Parliament, or minister of religion).

“Such situations do not preclude an application being made. However applicants, giving special consideration to necessity and proportionality, must draw attention to any such circumstances that might lead to an unusual degree of intrusion or infringement of privacy, and clearly note when an application is made for the communications data of a medical doctor, lawyer, journalist, Member of Parliament, or minister of religion.”

The new guidelines also state that RIPA requests involving journalists can continue to be signed off internally at the agency concerned.

RIPA requests for journalists’ phone records should carry the same safeguards as already exist under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act when it comes to police requests for journalistic material and should be extremely rare.

RIPA requests involving the telecoms records of journalists (and so, also their sources) must require the approval of a judge who is best placed to balance the public interest in disclosure of the information versus the over-arching public interest in respecting the confidentiality of journalists’ sources.

The new Acquisition and Disclosure of Communications Data Code of Practice must explicitly prevent law enforcement officials viewing the phone records of journalists who are not themselves under suspicion of committing any crime.

The draft code only makes reference to “the degree of interference with privacy” and says nothing about the issue of state interference with press freedom. This is why a judge must consider the case for overriding source protection.

The code needs to balance the seriousness of the alleged crime against the public interest in protecting the confidentiality of all journalistic sources and potential whistleblowers.

The guidance needs to make it clear that a public official communicating information to a journalist without official approval (ie. a leak) cannot be sufficient justification for a RIPA telecoms request.

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