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New complaints over police exposing journalists' sources

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

By - Josh Loeb - Police Oracle


Revelations that police forces have several times used laws designed for surveillance and incerception of communications to secretly seize journalists' phone records have led to renewed fears this could shut down whistleblowing.

Kent Police used the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) to obtain records of calls to a journalist so as to identify the source of stories about former MP Chris Huhne's speeding points fraud, it has been claimed.

The force defended its actions, and a Kent Police spokesman said: "These applications were proportionate, lawful, necessary, recorded and were relevant lines of enquiry for the investigation and the facts were made available to the court and defence."

This follows revelations last month that the Metropolitan Police siezed the phone records of The Sun's political editor Tom Newton Dunn as well as details of calls made to the newspaper's newsdesk - information that was then used to track down police officers accused of leaking information about the "Plebgate" affair.

The use of RIPA for this purpose has been strongly condemned by the National Union of Journalists and civil rights group Liberty.

Media trade magazine Press Gazette has launched a petition called Save Our Sources", which states: "Urgent action is needed to find out how many times public authorities have used RIPA to obtain the phone records of journalists and to ensure new guidelines are in place to prevent this happening in future."

It adds: "It is a well established legal principle that there is a huge public interest in the protection of confidential journalistic sources under Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights (freedom of expression).

"If law enforcement authorities require access to confidential journalistic material (such as phone records) they should make a public request to the journalist or news organisation involved. And if necessary they should argue the case before a judge in the procedure set out in the Police and Criminal Evidence Act."

Updated at 2.07pm on Monday October 6:

Interception of Communications Commissioner The Rt Hon Sir Paul Kennedy today announced he has launched an inquiry into the use of RIPA powers to investigate whether the acquisition of communications data has been undertaken to identify journalistic sources. 

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