Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg expects journalists' phone records to be given legal protection from police spying in the Serious Crime Bill, which is due to come into law before the general election.
Speaking on his LBC radio phone-in this morning, the Liberal Democrat leader (pictured, Reuters) said he believed the Conservatives have now given their backing to the need for police to require judicial approval before accessing journalistic records under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act.
The passing of this amendment would mark a victory for Press Gazette's Save Our Sources campaign, which called in September for this change to be made.
Clegg's news comes after the Interception of Communications Commissioner’s Office report on police use of RIPA yesterday made the same recommendation.
Asked when he expects this to come into law by LBC presenter Nick Ferrari, Clegg said: “We’re hoping to pass the… I mean, I need to double check, because this is all quite a fast-moving thing – “
Ferrari: “The Serious Crime Bill?”
Clegg: “Yes, the Serious Crime Bill. We’re hoping to pass that amendment.”
Asked how much coalition support this now has, Clegg said: “I think, I do need to double check, but I think the Conservatives now have come to the same view, which is good because it means that it will happen.”
The Liberal Democrats were the first major political party to support the call for police to require judicial approval when obtaining journalistic records.
Clegg said: “I have always believed that the police should have that power, but they should be subject to a judicial decision, judicial discretion, and thankfully now the [Interception of Communications] Commissioner published a report, I think it was yesterday, saying exactly the same thing. And we are now going to act on that as a Government.”
He added: “I am delighted, because I have for a long time been arguing that we should make this change because I want to strike the right balance between giving the police the powers they need, sometimes to go after privileged even confidential information, but not do so randomly, and certainly not to do so in a way which has a chilling effect on our traditions of freedom of expression.”
Yesterday, after the publication of the IOCCO report, the Prime Minister's official spokesman said he accepted the commissioner's recommendation: "He very much welcomes the report. He believes that the report makes the case well for the judicial oversight it recommends in cases of data comms applications that are relevant to journalistic sources and that is why the Government is accepting that recommendation."
The Home Office has also said it accepts that IOCCO recommendations "in full".
Home Secretary Theresa May said: "Communications data is a critical tool used by police and other agencies to investigate crime, safeguard national security and protect the public, and safeguards exist to ensure powers are not abused.
"However a free press is fundamental to a free society and the Government is determined that nothing is done that puts that at risk.
"That is why we particularly asked for views on freedom of expression in the public consultation on the communications data acquisition code of practice. We are currently considering responses to the consultation in advance of a revised code being debated in Parliament before it comes into force.
"We also said we would wait for the views of the Interception of Communications Commissioner and I welcome his recommendations, which I accept in full.”
The Home Office said the law would be passed in "due course", but declined to confirm this will be part of the Serious Crime Bill.