The Times, Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph have today used their editorials to further condemn draft Home Office guidelines which allow police to view journalists' telecoms records.
Yesterday, a letter written by Press Gazette and the Society of Editors, and signed by all national newspaper editors, was sent to the Prime Minister condemning the draft code on use of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, which puts journalists’ sources at risk.
Politicians promised new controls in the code, but instead the new draft guidance states that police can continue to secretly view journalists' phone records provided they give “special consideration” to the “proportionality” of doing so.
Today, the Daily Mail accused police of using the “tactics of the Stasi” to find sources, citing the cases in which Sun and Mail on Sunday journalists had their phone records grabbed by forces.
Press Gazette was the first news organisation to report that the Metropolitan Police obtained the phone records of The Sun, and has also revealed RIPA abuse by four other forces.
The Save Our Sources campaign, launched by Press Gazette on 11 September 2014, has attracted more than 1,600 signatures from journalists and free speech campaigners, and has led to inquiries into RIPA by the Home Affairs Select Committee and Interception of Communications Commissioner's Office. The latter's report is due at the end of this month.
The Mail, along with The Times and Telegraph, called on the Home Secretary, Theresa May (pictured, Reuters), to "think again".
The Mail’s editorial said: “Under proposed new codes of practice, just as before, police will need only the permission of another, middle-ranking officer to seize journalists’ records.
“There will be no requirement to apply to a court, no right to challenge a snooping order – or even to be informed that such an order is being sought.
“Meanwhile, the officer who authorises the seizure of phone records need take no account of the public interest or of Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which guarantees freedom of expression. He or she need only ‘believe’, whether reasonably or not, that a crime has been committed.
“This paper accepts the need for these powers to combat terrorism and organised crime. But extending them to crush whistleblowers who expose wrongdoing and corruption is a grotesque violation of freedom, democracy and the public’s right to know.
“Mrs May must surely think again.”
The Times today dubbed the police use of RIPA to find journalists sources as “Snoopergate”.
The newspaper’s editorial described the draft RIPA guidelines as “grossly inadequate”, adding: “They leave police free to sanction their own intercept requests, and they ignore appeals for judges to approve requests that involve journalists.”
The editorial said: “The new guidelines must at the very least require a judge’s approval for data requests involving journalistic sources. Press freedom is at stake here. So far Mrs May has failed to show she understands this. It is not too late for her to swallow her pride and do the right thing.”
The Times also condemned the police for not sharing information about their use of RIPA against journalists despite requests from the Home Affairs Select Committee and Press Gazette under the Freedom of Information Act.
The Daily Telegraph’s editorial today said: “Theresa May, the Home Secretary, promised to stop this practice by issuing new draft guidelines on the use of RIPA; yet these state that the police can continue to view journalists’ phone records, provided they give 'special consideration' to the 'proportionality' of doing so.
“This is not good enough. The details of people who have come to a newspaper in good faith – and often after no one else in authority has listened to them – are privileged information and should be treated as confidential. If the police have a serious enough case to warrant disclosure, they should make it before a judge, and not use the snooping powers of Ripa to circumvent what in any free country should be a proper judicial procedure. Mrs May needs to listen less to the protestations of the police and think again.”