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Judicial oversight is key for accessing communications data, says NUJ

6 December 2014

The NUJ has welcomed the Home Affairs select committee's calls for the complete overhaul of legislation governing communications data and agreed with MPs that the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) is not fit for purpose.

The parliamentary report, published on Saturday 6 December 2014, recommends the Home Office "use the current review of the RIPA code to ensure that law enforcement agencies use their RIPA powers properly."

The NUJ has continued to call for the communications data code of practice to be updated to include protections for journalists' communications. The union is also demanding legislative changes to ensure the process for accessing journalists' communications must be independent with judicial oversight.

Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ general secretary, said:

"The use of RIPA to access journalistic material without any judicial oversight must not continue. It has a detrimental impact on reporting in the public interest and corrodes the trust between the press and public.
"Whistleblowers who come to the press must know they will be safe. If the authorities are able to get at the identities of these people, our jobs as journalists are over.
"The NUJ welcomes the Home Affairs select committee report and agrees that RIPA is not fit for purpose but we are urging political leaders and the Interception of Communications Commissioner to go further and agree there must be judicial oversight before journalists' records and data can be obtained by the police and other authorities."

Keith Vaz MP, chair of the committee, said:

"RIPA is not fit for purpose. We were astonished that law enforcement agencies failed to routinely record the professions of individuals who have had their communications data accessed under the legislation. Using RIPA to access telephone records of journalists is wrong and this practice must cease. The inevitable consequence is that this deters whistleblowers from coming forward.
"The recording of information under RIPA is lamentably poor, and the whole process appears secretive and disorganised, without proper monitoring of what is being destroyed and what is being retained. We are concerned that the level of secrecy surrounding the use of RIPA allows investigating authorities to engage in acts which would be unacceptable in a democracy, with inadequate oversight.
"The Home Office has failed to publish its review within its own timetable, and not for the first time. It should hold a full public consultation on an amended RIPA code of practice, and any updated advice should contain special provisions for dealing with privileged information, such as journalistic material and material subject to legal privilege. It is vital that the Home Office use the current review of the RIPA code to ensure that law enforcement agencies use their RIPA powers properly."

Get the report from the Home Affairs committee.

Tags: , ripa, communications, communications data bill, snoopers' charter, surveillance, protection of sources, ethics, home office, parliament uk