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NUJ welcomes proposal for judicial authorisation to access journalists' communications data

4 February 2015

Today's report from the Interception of Communications Commissioner's Office (IOCCO) reveals that 82 journalists have been snooped on under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act over the three year period covered by its inquiry.

The inquiry found 19 police forces sought communications data in relation to 34 investigations. The 34 investigations concerned relationships between 105 journalists and 242 sources – 82 journalists had their data seized by police after internal approval was given in relation to 24 of the 34 investigations.

Whilst deciding that police are not "randomly trawling" for data, the report revealed that a total of 608 RIPA applications were made by forces for communications data to find journalistic sources were made in that period – with 80 per cent of those related to the Met's Operation Elveden.

The IOCCO found the police did not give the question of necessity, proportionality and collateral intrusion sufficient consideration and did not give due consideration to freedom of speech.

The report concluded the current Home Office codes of practice do not provide adequate safeguards to protect journalistic sources and that forces should require judicial approval to access journalistic material in future.

The report stated:

"After careful consideration of all the evidence and the sensitivities and complexities of the considerations required when contemplating an interference with Article 10 of the Convention it is recommended that judicial authorisation is obtained in cases where communications data is sought to determine the source of journalistic information."

Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ general secretary, 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"

Tags: , ripa, surveillance, iocco, communications, snoopers' charter, privacy, metropolitan police, protection of sources, courts, government uk