RIPA report shocks industry, but leaves journalists targeted by police in the dark

The revelation today that 19 police forces have used the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act to find journalistic sources has prompted shock across the industry.

The Interception of Communications Commissioner's Office has been praised for concluding that forces should require judicial approval to obtain journalistic records.

But the IOCCO report has been criticised for failing to provide details of which forces have used the act and when – leaving journalists with no idea whether they have been targeted or not.

The 55-page report discloses that the 19 forces have made 608 RIPA applications for communications data relating to sources over the last three years.

Some 105 journalists are listed as “of interest” across 34 individual investigations, and 82 had their records obtained under the act.

Reaction to figures

Journalists left in the dark

London Assembly member Baroness Jenny Jones, who has consistently criticised the Met for its use of RIPA in recent months, also called into question the findings of the report.

She said: “This report is another nail in the coffin of RIPA which must be amended so that there is judicial authorisation before the police obtain journalistic material. Until the law is changed the Mayor should retain the services of a retired judge who could advise the Met if they want to make applications under RIPA.

“However, I am concerned that today’s report is just the tip of the iceberg. The Interception of Communications Commissioner only looked at investigations into press leaks where the police knew a journalist was involved. The police have told me they often don’t know the identity, let alone occupation, of the people their 90,000 RIPA requests a year are targeting. Therefore, how can they be so sure they haven’t been snooping on journalists, or lawyers, who are meant to be protected by the law?”

Meanwhile, Conservative MP Tracey Crouch said the IOCCO had exposed an "outrageous misuse of RIPA" by police forces.

National Union of Journalists general secretary Michelle Stanistreet said: "The acknowledgement that judicial approval is necessary before journalistic material can be obtained is a welcome finding from this report.
 
“Secret data grabs by police have denied journalists the ability to stand up and protect their sources, and judicial transparency will prevent this happening in future.  The level of snooping on journalists with a view to outing their sources is shocking, and the real casualties are the whistleblowers who will be deterred from speaking out as a consequence and the public interest.
 
“The report also rightly highlights the unforgiveable actions of News Corp who by voluntarily handing swathes of data over to the Met put commercial self-interest ahead of any concerns for sources or for their own reporters.
 
“It’s time for all political parties commit to a full and proper public debate on the issue of surveillance and draft new laws that include necessary safeguards for journalists, their materials,  data and their sources. The vital role of journalists as the public watchdog must continue to be protected."

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