Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has told Theresa May police must be forced to seek judicial approval before grabbing journalists’ phone records under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act.
The Liberal Democrat leader revealed on his LBC radio phone-in that he spoke to Home Secretary Theresa May this week after draft Home Office guidance was released saying that police should be able to access journalistic records without a judge’s approval.
The draft Code of Practice has been widely criticised by journalists and press freedom campaigners this week, and Clegg made clear he disagrees with the suggestion that police should be able to sign off their own RIPA requests and that journalistic records should not be considered privileged.
He said: “RIPA… is not there for the police to go after the communications information data that journalists might have got totally properly as part of their profession.”
He added: “I think there should be a judge sign-off. Theresa May, to be fair, she’s not saying she’s disagreeing with it, but I haven’t got agreement with the Conservatives to do that now – not least because the Interception of Communications Commissioner is producing a report on all of this by the end of next month.”
As part of the report, the commissioner has asked all police forces to provide information about when they have used RIPA to find journalistic sources.
So far, the Metropolitan Police as well as forces for Suffolk, Essex and Thames Valley have separately admitted to using the act to uncover sources. Cleveland Police is also understood to have used the act to find a source in recent years.
Clegg said: “Unless that commissioner’s report comes up with something dramatically different to what I expect I will very much stick to the view that I was saying to the Conservatives yesterday, to Theresa May, that we really should move now towards a position where the police have to seek a sign off from the judge before they go after journalists in the way that they have.”
Clegg also used his phone-in to defend journalism in general.
He said: “Whilst I don’t always get the best press from my dear friends amongst the media I will defend the journalist’s right until my last breath as an old fashioned liberal to go about making life uncomfortable for people.
“I mean, that’s partly what journalism is about. It’s keeping people on their toes, it’s finding out stuff that other people want to hide, it’s seeking out the truth that is otherwise being hidden
“And you can’t do that if journalists are constantly worried that police are going to arbitrarily kind of bear down on them.”