Ireland could get Save Our Sources law after claims police watchdog grabbed journalists' phone records

The prime minister of Ireland, Enda Kenny, is reportedly considering changing the law in relation to journalists' phone records.

It was reported last week that Ireland's police watchdog the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (GSOC), secretly accessed the records of two journalists as part of a leak inquiry.

The news caused an uproar, with The Sunday Times in Ireland calling for similar safeguards provided to UK journalists by the Save Our Sources law, passed after a six-month campaign by Press Gazette.

Kenny is quoted in the Irish Times today saying: “Fundamentally, I think that where issues like this are concerned that it would be appropriate that the legislation be reformed to reflect that.

“Because whatever else people might argue about, there has always been a consistency about the protection of sources for information for members of the press in a democracy like ours.”

It also reports that minister for justice Frances Fitzgerald is to bring a memo to a cabinet meeting today on a planned review of GSOC's powers.

The Sunday Times said in an editorial at the weekend: "In the UK, police were recently prevented from secretly obtaining phone records of journalists after the Press Gazette launched a Save our Sources campaign.

"After the Interception of Communications Commissioner, a dedicated office set up to oversee access requests, ruled that the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act was incompatible with journalists' rights under the European Convention, a statutory instrument was introduced.

"This requires a judge to sign off on requests to access journalists' records, and for journalists to be given a right of appeal if they suspect their call records were viewed without just cause.

"It's now time for Frances Fitzgerald, the minister for justice, to introduce similar safeguards for Irish journalists."

According to the Irish Times, GSOC obtained the phone records after the friend of a deceased model, Katy French, complained about alleged police information leaks.

Three Garda members were reportedly contacted at the end of last year by GSOC and told analysis of the Dublin-based journalists' records had established contact with them.

French died at the age of 24 in 2007 with cocaine found in her system, according to the Irish Times. It is not clear why her friend lodged a leak complaint now.

GSOC told Press Gazette it has not disclosed its interception and declined to comment on the story.

The Irish Independent reports that a journalist from its company, Independent News and Media (INM), is one of the two whose records were accessed. He expressed concern that his email records may have also been accessed.

The case mirrors recent revelations about UK police use of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) to find journalists' sources.

The first case, involving the Metropolitan Police seeking the source of The Sun's Plebgate story, emerged in last September.

Forces for Essex/Kent, Suffolk, Cleveland, Scotland, Thames Valley and, most recently, Sussex are now known to have used the act to find sources by analysing journalist or source phone records.

Last February, a report from the Interception of Communications Commissioner's Office (IOCCO) revealed that, in the three years to October 2014, 19 UK police forces used RIPA to obtain phone records to identify sources.

In March last year, following Press Gazette six-month Save Our Sources campaign, the law was changed so police forces are now required to obtain judicial approval before obtaining journalist/source communications data.

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