Home Sec Theresa May says police have been 'over zealous' in their pursuit of journalists' sources

Home Secretary Theresa May has admitted that sometimes police may have been "a little over zealous" in their use of spying powers to uncover confidential journalistic sources.

She was speaking last night at the Journalists' Charity's annual charity reception at the Irish Embassy.

Last year a report from the Interception of Communications Commissioner revealed that police had secretly obtained the phone records of 82 journalists in the previous three years in order to find their confidential sources.

Two pressing concerns for journalists were addressed head on by the Home Secretary, Mrs Theresa May, in a speech at the Journalists’ Charity’s annual reception at the Embassy of Ireland in London.

According to the Journalists' Charity she also accepted that it could not be right that people had been on pre-trial bail “not just for months, but sometimes years without being charged, and their life put on hold”.

Many of the 67 UK journalisted arrested and/or charged by police in the course of their work over the last four years have spent years in limbo on police bail awaiting trial.

The charity reports that May expressed her admiration for its work and especially its sheltered housing and care home at Dorking. She singled out for praise Marhita Wearing, who at the age of 85, published Trio, the monthly newspaper for the Dorking residents, and the late Betty Titmuss, who was still writing a local newspaper column when she died at the age of 81.
 
May reportedly said: "That desire to search out a story, that desire to entertain, and to fulfil that role with integrity, underpins our free society, and the Government is committed to preserving and protecting a free press.”
 
The Journalists' Charity reports that May gave "an assurance that action was being taken to guard against the identification of journalists’ sources". 
 
Liberty raised concerns this week that the Government's draft Investigatory Powers Bill allows it to conduct surveillance of emails, web browsing and telephone calls without giving adequate protection to confidential journalistic sources.
 
The draft law requires police to seek prior approval from a judicial commissioner before acquiring telecoms data which would identify a journalistic source. This continues the protection which passed into law last year following the Press Gazette Save Our Sources campaign.

But news organisations remain concerned because requests for journalists’ phone records would go direct to telecoms providers, in secret, with no opportunity given to news organisations to argue the case for confidentiality.

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