More than 40 police forces refuse to reveal uses of RIPA against journalists " with 11 citing national security

More than 40 police forces across the UK have declined to disclose details on whether the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) has been used by them to obtain journalists' telephone records. (Stock image, Reuters)

While 27 forces have rejected Press Gazette's Freedom of Information request on cost grounds – with many saying the information is not easily "retrievable" – 17 have cited the "risk of undermining national security".

However, the Interception of Communications Commissioner, Sir Paul Kennedy, said yesterday that he has written to all chief constables ordering them to provide full details of use of RIPA powers to identify journalistic sources.

This order was made after Press Gazette's Save Our Sources campaign, calling on Kennedy to put a stop to RIPA being used against law-abiding journalists, which has so far recieved support from more than 1,000 journalists, press freedom campaigners and others.

The campaign was launched in response to the revelation that the Metropolitan Police had used RIPA to secretly obtain the phone records of The Sun newsdesk and political editor Tom Newton Dunn. It has since emerged that Kent Police used RIPA to obtain the records of Mail on Sunday news editor David Dillon and freelance Andrew Alderson.

On the same day as the Save Our Sources campaign was launched, just less than a month ago, Press Gazette asked UK police forces:

Between 1 January 2004 and today’s date (11 September 2014), on how many occasions has your police force used the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act to obtain information from the telephone records of journalists, news organisations or any other news organisation employees?

Please list all such cases, including: the date, the name of the person (and their position) /organisation concerned, when their records were obtained, what the purpose of obtaining the information was (i.e. what was the police force looking for) and whether the police force succeeded in obtaining the information.

If you are unable to answer to answer these questions in full, please provide as much information as possible.

The Metropolitan Police, which made 95,000 RIPA requests last year alone, was the first to decline to answer the FoI request, saying it did not keep a record of the times it had used RIPA to obtain journalistic records. This is despite the fact that communications between journalists and their sources are given special protection under Article 10 of the Human Rights Act (freedom of expression) and under the same clause in the European Convention on Human Rights.

The first to decline the request on security grounds was Humberside Police, with the other forces subsequently giving similar reasons.

Humberside Police said that the disclosure could “undermine ongoing investigations, reveal policing techniques, risk the identification of individuals, the possibility of revealing involvement of any exempt bodies and the risk in undermining National Security”.

“Revealing information that a RIPA application has been submitted may in itself be all the information offenders want. This awareness would help subjects avoid detection, and inhibit the prevention and detection of crime.

“This could either lead to the identification of specific cases or in providing this level of information at force level is likely to result in significantly small authorisation numbers being published which presents a real risk of identifying the resources available to individual departments to covertly monitor groups or individuals, which may include journalists and news organisation employees, likely to be committing offences under their remit.”

It added: “The security of the country is of paramount importance and the Police service will not divulge whether information is or is not held if to do so could undermine National Security or compromise law enforcement. Whilst there is a public interest in the transparency of policing operations and in this case providing assurance that the police service is appropriately and effectively engaging with the threat posed by the criminal fraternity, there is a very strong public interest in safeguarding both national security and the integrity of police investigations and operations in this area.

“As much as there is public interest in knowing that policing activity, particularly applications under RIPA legislation, is appropriate and balanced in matters of national security, this will only be overridden in exceptional circumstances.

"In this case there is also no requirement to satisfy any public concern over the legality of police operations and the tactics we may or may not use. The force is already held to account by independent bodies such as The Office of the Surveillance Commissioner and “The Interception of Communications Commissioners Office. These inspections assess each constabulary’s compliance with the legislation and a full report is submitted to the Prime Minister and Scottish Ministers containing statistical information. Our accountability is therefore not enhanced by confirming or denying that information pertinent to this request is held.”

"None of the above can be viewed as an inference that information does or does not exist."

The FoI request rejections come despite the fact that the Met Police has openly admitted using RIPA to obtain the phone records of The Sun and Kent Police has admitted doing in The Mail on Sunday case.

Yesterday, acting Information Commissioner Paul Kennedy said: "Today I have written to all Chief Constables and directed them under Section 58(1) of RIPA to provide me with full details of all investigations that have used Part I Chapter 2 RIPA powers to acquire communications data to identify journalistic sources. 

"My office will undertake a full inquiry into these matters and report our findings to the Prime Minister and publicly so as to develop clarity in relation to the scope and compliance of this activity.”

He also said: “I fully understand and share the concerns raised about the protection of journalistic sources so as to enable a free press."

Here is the list of police forces sent FoIs by Press Gazette and, if applicable, reasons for not disclosing the information:

Avon and Somerset: Cost exemption

Bedfordshire: Security exemption

Cambridgeshire: Cost exemption. Said around 800 RIPA applications have been made in last ten years

Cheshire: Cost exemption

City of London: Cost exemption

Cleveland: Security exemption

Cumbria: No answer yet

Derbyshire: Security exemption

Devon and Cornwall: Cost exemption

Dorset: Security exemption

Durham: Security exemption

Essex: Cost exemption

Gloucestershire: Cost exemption

Greater Manchester: Cost exemption

Hampshire: Cost exemption

Hertfordshire: Cost exemption

Humberside: Security exemption

Kent: Cost exemption

Lancashire: Security exemption

Leicestershire: Security exemption

Lincolnshire: Security exemption

Merseyside: Security exemption

Metropolitan Police: Cost exemption

Norfolk and Suffolk (answered together): Cost exemption. Said "almost 4,000 applications for communications data granted" in last two years

North Yorkshire: No answer yet

Northamptonshire: Cost exemption

Northumbria: Security exemption

Nottinghamshire: Cost exemption

South Yorkshire: Cost exemption

Staffordshire: Cost exemption

Surrey: Security exemption

Sussex: No answer yet

Thames Valley: Cost exemption. Said has in excess of 50,000 RIPA records from last ten years

Warwickshire: Cost exemption

West Mercia: Cost exemption

West Midlands: Cost exemption

West Yorkshire: Cost exemption. Said approximately 47,550 RIPA applications have been processed in the last ten years

Wiltshire: Cost exemption

Scotland: Cost exemption

Dyfed Powys: Cost exemption

Gwent: Cost exemption

North Wales: Security exemption

South Wales: Security exemption

British Transport Police: Security exemption

Northern Ireland: Security exemption

Ministry of Defence Police: Security exemption

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