from the just-a-tiny,-long-running-abuse-of-the-system dept
The UK's top spy agencies have been known to place journalists under surveillance. Leaked Snowden documents showed GCHQ collected emails from news organizations such as the New York Times, BBC, and Washington Post. More accusations of spying were raised by UK journalists, detailing what appeared to be a clear abuse of the country's anti-terror laws -- laws particularly prone to exploitation thanks to generous loopholes and a minimum of oversight.
It wasn't just spy agencies doing the spying. In the case of the UK journalists, it was also local law enforcement digging through their emails and phone calls in hopes of identifying sources and leakers. More evidence of police surveillance of journalists has come to light, as reported by the Associated Press. Once again, it's law enforcement looking to uncover sources and whistleblowers, rather than terrorists or criminals.
British journalist Julia Breen's scoop about racism at her local police force didn't just get her on the front page, it got her put under surveillance.
In the months that followed Breen's exclusive, investigators logged her calls, those of her colleague Graeme Hetherington and even their modest-sized newspaper's busy switchboard in an effort to unmask their sources. The two were stunned when they eventually discovered the scale of the spying.
"It just never even crossed our minds," Breen said in a recent interview in the newsroom of The Northern Echo, in the English market town of Darlington. "I don't know if I was quite naive, but on a regional newspaper you don't expect your local police force to do this."
Mark Dias, a Cleveland Police officer, came forward and admitted he was the source for Breen's story, but that didn't stop the department from obtaining three days worth of calls to the paper's switchboard, along with logs of calls to and from three of the journalists who worked for the paper.
Once the police were tapped in, they just kept collecting call records.
Although none of the seized records included the content of the individuals' conversations, collectively the length, timing and nature of hundreds of phone calls can be extraordinarily revealing. It was later calculated that the surveillance covered over 1 million minutes of calling time.
And for what? The whistleblower the police were interested in had already outed himself. (And placed under investigation by his department.) Anything beyond that point was purely a fishing expedition for new sources/whistleblowers -- presumably in hopes of heading off more negative press. In addition to the journalists and Dias, Cleveland Police gathered information on communications with a police union official, and a lawyer that Dias and the union official were working with.
Since this came to light, the department has apologized to all of its snooping targets. It has also promised to perform an internal review of its last six years of policework to see if other surveillance abuses have taken place. This was more likely prompted by a court decision calling the surveillance unlawful than the department's innate desire to do the right thing. It will be doing it now, but only after being caught doing things it shouldn't have been doing.