The reporter who exposed the hacking scandal has said journalists should ask the Investigatory Powers Tribunal if police have spied on them.
Author of Hack Attack, Nick Davies, said he aimed to contact the Tribunal after being contacted by Press Gazette as part of the Save Our Sources campaign. Davies wrote a number of critical stories about the Met Police as part of his long investigation into hacking at the News of the World.
Press Gazette is urging journalists who may have been targeted by public authorities to make a complaint to the Tribunal to find out if they have been spied on.
The Tribunal is a court which decides whether public authorities use the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act in a way which is compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights.
It was revealed earlier this month that the Met Police had used RIPA to secretly obtain details of phone calls made to Sun political editor Tom Newton Dunn and of calls made to The Sun newsdesk in order to find and then sack three police officers who lawfully leaked information about the Plebgate incident.
The Met has declined to reveal how often it has used RIPA against journalists in this way.
Last year public authorities made more more than 500,000 requests for telecoms records under RIPA.
Davies told Press Gazette: “It looks like Scotland Yard cheated to get hold of Tom Newton Dunn's phone records. They should have used the Police and Criminal Evidence Act which would have required them to go to court and to deal with the fact that they were trying to get hold of confidential journalistic material, so they would have had to justify their plan.
“Instead, they used RIPA, which allowed them to make the move without Tom or anybody even knowing, let alone having a chance to argue about it. It's like sneaking round the back of the house and climbing in through the window because you know you're not welcome at the front door.
“If they had genuinely thought that their request was justified, surely they would have gone the proper route and put their case.
“And, of course, it raises the equally worrying question of how many other times they have used this dodge to intrude on the communications of journalists.
“Certainly I've been warned in the past by a senior officer who told me that this kind of thing was going on. He had no detail. But the more we can find out, the better.
“So I agree with Press Gazette, that any of us who think we could possibly have been the victim of this kind of cheating by the police should try to persuade the Investigatory Powers Tribunal to tell us what has been happening.”
How to find out if public authorities have spied on your phone records:
It costs nothing to make a complaint to the Investigatory Powers Tribunal.
It is not necessary for a journalist to have any evidence of covert activity against them (because by its nature such activity is secret) – they must only believe that such activity may have taken place.
Given the fact that Tom Newton Dunn was merely a journalist doing his job in a lawful way and investigating the police, any journalist who has written a story which is critical of the police may have had their phone records monitored. Both the Met Police and the Association of Chief Police Officers have said they do not believe such monitoring to be illegal. RIPA can also be used by a number of other public authorities and law enforcement agencies to secretly obtain telecoms records.
The Tribunal is not required to consider complaints which date back more than a year.
The Tribunal will not tell a journalist if they have been subject to surveillance unless their complaint is upheld.
Press Gazette has launched a petition orging the Interception of Communications Commissioner to take action to ensure public authorities stop using RIPA to spy on journalists' sources.