UK Police Abuse Of Anti-Terrorist Snooping Powers To Reveal Journalists' Sources Leads To Widespread Calls For Reform

from the and-they-want-even-more-surveillance-powers??? dept

Last month, we wrote about how the UK police used powers brought in to tackle terrorism and serious crime to snoop on a journalist's phone records in order to reveal his source. Last week, we learned that this was not a one-off: journalists at the UK's Mail on Sunday newspaper were also spied on using the same anti-terrorism law:
Police used anti-terrorism powers to secretly spy on The Mail on Sunday after shamed Cabinet Minister Chris Huhne falsely accused journalists of conspiring to bring him down.

Detectives sidestepped a judge’s agreement to protect the source for our stories exposing how Huhne illegally conspired to have his speeding points put on to his wife's licence. Instead they used far-reaching powers under the controversial Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) -- originally intended to safeguard national security -- to hack MoS phone records and identify the source.

They trawled through thousands of confidential numbers called by journalists from a landline at the busy newsdesk going back an entire year, covering hundreds of stories unrelated to the Huhne case.
These two cases have finally set the alarm bells ringing in the UK. The newspaper affected in the first case has written to the Investigatory Powers Tribunal about the incident:
The Sun has made an official complaint about the Metropolitan police's use of anti-terror laws to snoop on its political editor's phone calls.

It has written to the Investigatory Powers Tribunal to seek a public review of the Met’s use of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act to obtain Tom Newton Dunn's phone records.
That's unlikely to have much effect, but a move by Keith Vaz, chair of the powerful home affairs select committee in the UK Parliament, may do:
Every police force in the UK is to be asked by a parliamentary committee to reveal how many times they have secretly snooped on journalists by obtaining their telephone and email records without their consent.

Keith Vaz, chairman of the home affairs select committee, said he wanted a detailed breakdown of police use of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (Ripa) to force telecoms companies to hand over phone records without customers' knowledge.
Indeed, things have become so serious that even the Interception of Communications Commissioner, who oversees this area, is launching his own inquiry (pdf) - but not a public one, which is what The Sun newspaper has requested:
Today I have written to all Chief Constables and directed them under Section 58(1) of RIPA to provide me with full details of all investigations that have used Part I Chapter 2 RIPA powers to acquire communications data to identify journalistic sources. My office will undertake a full inquiry into these matters and report our findings to the Prime Minister and publically so as to develop clarity in relation to the scope and compliance of this activity.
This double-pronged attack should force the UK's top police officers to own up to what they have been doing secretly with RIPA. If it turns out that its powers have been routinely abused, the pressure for reforming the outdated RIPA will be greatly increased. Already, the Liberal Democrats, the junior partner in the UK's coalition government, have called for changes to RIPA that would protect journalists and whistleblowers from state snooping, while Keith Vaz wishes to go even further, as the Guardian reports:
Vaz said Ripa was not fit for purpose and needed "total refurbishment". He said: "It is important that the public and parliamentarians get statistics on the number of times it is being used and how it is being used without journalists having to submit freedom of information requests. All kinds of mistake are being made. Anecdotally we've heard of local authorities using it to check people's addresses when parents make applications for schools."
It's rather rich that at precisely the moment we find out how the UK police have been abusing RIPA's anti-terrorism surveillance capabilities to investigate minor offenses, the head of the UK's National Crime Agency has the gall to ask for even more powers.

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Filed Under: anti-terror, journalists, ripa, snooping, surveillance, uk


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  • icon
    Ninja (profile), 8 Oct 2014 @ 2:48am

    If it turns out that its powers have been routinely abused, the pressure for reforming the outdated RIPA will be greatly increased.

    That if they don't release tons of redacted pages or the data isn't mysteriously destroyed due to an internal Katrina or something.

    Still, one has to wonder if it's not too little, too late...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 Oct 2014 @ 4:20am

    Terrorism and children.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 Oct 2014 @ 4:21am

    They'll only be turning over the ones that are within the bounds of the law , the personal ones will not be on that list.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 Oct 2014 @ 4:28am

    all the UK police and security forces are doing is exactly the same as those in the USA have been doing! the UK cant do enough for the USA and is willing to sail it's people straight down the river under the ridiculous claims of 'for the children' and 'to stop terrorism'!
    freedom is the most important thing anyone can have! giving up even an iota only leads to more until the countries concerned are worse than the actual terrorists. no one wants to be affected by terrorism but to voluntarily give up or to have taken away the rights to freedom, freedom of speech and privacy is going to lead to nothing except what the democratic world has condemned for decades in countries like N.Korea, China and some of the arab countries.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Stewby, 8 Oct 2014 @ 4:32am

    The fact that this story was released during peak ISIS fear-mongering makes it possible that they thought they couldn't keep it hidden forever and decided now is the best time to release it without damaging the national security state.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 Oct 2014 @ 4:38am

    Same BS different Nazi.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 Oct 2014 @ 5:26am

    The Sun's complaints about UK gov snooping are especially rich since News Corp / Murdoch and his ilk are amongst the biggest defenders of the surveillance state. But I suppose that's the price we pay to defend our rights.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 Oct 2014 @ 8:30am

    This is why everyone should fear governmental power

    This is why everyone should fear government leaders oversteppig their powers. It might be all well and good when the IRS is targeting members of the other party or journalists are snooped on who write damaging articles about your party; but what happens when the other party gets control? Suddenly you won't appreciate their snooping on you and your party. So everyone, no matter which party you align with, should fear and work against governments taking away libertys, overstepping their powers and being given broad, unchecked snooping powers.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      art guerrilla (profile), 8 Oct 2014 @ 12:06pm

      Re: This is why everyone should fear governmental power

      thank you, a non cow...

      kind of disappointed only 9 comments here: THIS is HUGELY disturbing on a number of levels, *mostly* having to do with *OF COURSE* The They (tm) would *INSIST* that no, nyet, nein, non, nebber ebber would they use their UNSUPERVISED spying powers against the media to spy, influence, squelch, censor it...
      nebber ebber, honest injun, cross my fingers and hope to die...
      nebber...
      oh, except The They (tm) have and are and shut up about it already...
      THIS story is infinitely more important than any silly copymaximalist going full bull-goose looney... those are a dime a dozen, THIS is a blow to humanity...

      really, one of the horrifying aspects of what was/is being done to risen et al, is that they were both tapping lawyers and story sources...

      um, that is THE END for ANY hope of ANY real, honest, truth-to-power, afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted type of investigative journalism...
      THE
      END
      .

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 9 Oct 2014 @ 2:48pm

      Re: This is why everyone should fear governmental power

      its the same party with 2 different faces. Notice how the same tyrannical stuff has been happening for the last several presidents.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    wereisjessicahyde (profile), 8 Oct 2014 @ 10:17am

    I wouldn't believe a word published in The Sun or The Daily Mail. At the moment they are both campaigning to have the UK repeal The Human Rights act (1998) the very same act that protects them from things like this and includes the media's "freedom to receive and impart information without interference by public authority" They can't have it both ways.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 Oct 2014 @ 2:15pm

    Remember when a UK Greens politician found to be on a "Domestic Extremist" list?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    GEMont (profile), 9 Oct 2014 @ 6:51am

    The dog ate my homework!!!

    "Every police force in the UK is to be asked by a parliamentary committee to reveal how many times they have secretly snooped on journalists by obtaining their telephone and email records without their consent. "

    Unless every police force in the UK was officially directed to maintain exact records of all such secret surveillance actions, methinks the most common answer from most of the police forces in the UK will be:

    "Umm, no idea. We didn't actually keep records."

    ---

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      wereisjessicahyde (profile), 9 Oct 2014 @ 10:37pm

      Re: The dog ate my homework!!!

      It's not as simple as that mate. The UK press over the last few years have been found guilty of over stepping the mark - hacking - yes really hacking - not the normal press use of the word -- of private mobiles, emails. Not just the numbers but the actual conversations - and then they published them.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 10 Oct 2014 @ 1:17am

        Re: Re: The dog ate my homework!!!

        It's not important to the abuse of RIPA what the press get up to. Yes, they may be hypocrites but the Police are supposed to uphold the law, not abuse it.

        The use of RIPA to get information in the Huhne case is particularly worrying as a judge had ordered the anonymity of the source. Surely, the use of RIPA to find out this information would be Contempt of Court?

        There is already precedence as there have been many cases of jury members being held in Contempt after using the Internet to find information about a case when specifically ordered not to.
        http://www.theguardian.com/law/2012/jan/23/juror-contempt-court-online-research

        My point being as in the above case:
        "The lord chief justice said Dallas, who was in court for the hearing, had deliberately disobeyed the trial judge's instructions not to search the internet and added: "The damage to the administration of justice is obvious.""
        If an instruction by a judge not to reveal the identity of the source is not just ignored, but deliberately disobeyed, that surely must also be Contempt.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        GEMont (profile), 12 Oct 2014 @ 1:26am

        Re: Re: The dog ate my homework!!!

        Agreed.

        But the recognition of bad acting by one group (the Press), does not necessarily prevent another group (the Police) from also acting bad.

        While I've no sympathy for the currently useless Truth-Free Sensational Press, regardless of its location on earth, and agree that what they did was reprehensible and deserving of massive legal punishment, the fact that they were caught will have no deterrent effect on the police breaking - or in this case, bending - the law to try and prevent themselves from being caught.

        Especially if, as I said, no specific legal demand has been officially mandated that they maintain exact records, thus allowing them to pretend incompetence due to misunderstanding.

        It has become standard procedure for all official agencies, when asked to release their own incriminating records, to simply claim "the dog ate my homework". Since it is an acceptable excuse for the courts, it will continue to be used, whenever official misdeeds need to be kept hidden.

        In my opinion only of course. :)

        ---

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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