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Time for change on surveillance, says NUJ

17 July 2015

The NUJ continues to campaign against the monitoring and surveillance of trade unionists and journalists following the High Court ruling that current surveillance powers are unlawful. The ruling follows David Cameron's statement to parliament on Thursday 16 July in response to the Interception of Communications Commissioner’s report and Theresa May's publication of the terms of reference for the Pitchford public inquiry into undercover policing. 

David Cameron, in a written statement to parliament yesterday, said:

"The Commissioner finds that two police forces have acquired communications data to identify the interactions between journalists and their sources in two investigations without obtaining judicial approval, in breach of the code of practice introduced in March this year. This was a serious error."

The Interception of Communications Commissioner’s report was published alongside the Prime Minister’s statement. Sir Anthony May, wrote:

"...the government took steps promptly to change the legislation to include provision designed to protect the public interest in the confidentiality of journalistic sources, … the interim measures which that [sic] were introduced were not ideal. Again the lack of stakeholder engagement due to the speed at which the new legislation was implemented has resulted in a lack of clarity about the provisions." 
"...two police forces have acquired communications data to identify the interactions between journalists and their sources in two investigations without obtaining judicial approval."
"I would urge the government to ensure that extensive stakeholder engagement takes place when moving forward with new legislation."

On Friday 17 July, the High Court of Justice of England and Wales found that UK surveillance laws are incompatible with the European convention on human rights and the EU charter of fundamental rights. The High Court ordered the government to pass new legislation to come into effect by March 2016.

In response, the NUJ has called again for the government to respect the protection of journalistic sources, materials and communications.

Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ general secretary, said:

"Snooping on journalists and shopping their sources has made a terrible impact on the confidence potential whistleblowers have in putting vital information into the public domain. Criminalising sources and reporting has to stop.
"Our demands are straightforward. Legislative changes on surveillance must include an independent and judicial process; journalists must receive an automatic and mandatory prior notification of requests to access their sources, materials and communications; and mechanisms need to be put in place so journalists and media organisations can challenge an application to access their sources with a robust right of appeal. 
"There is no difference between the authorities asking for a journalists’ physical contacts book or footage and their telephone and communications records. The effect is exactly the same and the same legal safeguards must cover both."

More information:

David Anderson QC published his report A question of trust: report of the investigatory powers review, in June 2015, he also proposed new laws to replace the current powers and he proposed the inclusion of safeguards involving judicial authorisation and new special considerations and arrangements for privileged or confidential information held by journalists. David Anderson emphasised the importance of privacy in relation to the ability of a whistleblower to reveal state misconduct and of a journalist to report it, highlighting that the ability to do so requires an assurance that the journalist’s sources will not be made known to the authorities.

Tags: , ripa, surveillance, blacklisting, monitoring, protection of sources, production order, code of conduct, ethics, parliament uk, public interest, david cameron, theresa may, home office, legal action, legal challenge, legislation, interception of communications, high court england wales