UK Police Abused Anti-Terror Law To Snoop On Journalist's Phone Records Concerning Minor Political Spat
from the abuse-of-power-is-easy-when-you're-in-power dept
Plebgate is one of those silly minor political spats in the UK involving a top UK politician who apparently got angry that police wouldn’t let him ride his bike out of the main gate at 10 Downing Street. The details really don’t matter. It’s just one of those political type stories that the press loves. But, now it’s come out that in investigating this incident, the Metropolitan Police appear to have abused an anti-terror law to obtain the phone records of journalists who reported on the story.
Specifically, the police made use of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA), the big anti-terror law in the UK that earlier this year we noted was abused to track down a government whistleblower. And this time it was used to get the phone records of Tom Newton Dunn, the political editor of The Sun, because the Sun reported on the whole Plebgate affair. The use of RIPA — which, again, is supposed to be for tracking down terrorists — let the police circumvent the law they’re supposed to use, the Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE), which requires the police to actually go before a judge first when trying to access journalistic materials. With RIPA, the police could just claim they need the records, and boom, the phone company handed them over.
For various obvious reasons, journalists are fairly alarmed by this clear abuse of the law to view the private communications of journalists. From the Guardian’s coverage of this:
Sources in the Sun newsroom said Newton Dunn was disgusted and outraged to learn the police had seized his phone records. ?The first we knew of it was yesterday, we are taking legal advice,? said the source on Tuesday. ?We would never have known unless the Met report came out.?
Another said: ?This is unbelievable. It?s like the secret police going round checking journalists? phones. If they have done this, the bigger question is how often have they done this??
Actually, the bigger question goes beyond just how often have they done this for journalists’ records, but how often are they doing this for lots of other stuff. As David Meyer at GigaOm rightly points out, the recent (rushed through with no debate) data retention law, DRIP, in the UK expands RIPA to cover all kinds of internet communications as well. Thus, thanks to DRIP, the police can get all sorts of similar information — and they seem clearly willing to use it on cases that have absolutely nothing to do with terrorism at all, but even in minor political spats that involve the police themselves.
It’s not a surprise that surveillance laws will be abused. But it’s worth highlighting when they’re abused so egregiously.