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
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.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:
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.
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.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:
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.
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.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:
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.
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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