PSNI silent over spying on media

Posted By: November 16, 2014

Force refuses to say if it used RIPA anti-terror laws to snoop on Northern Ireland journalists

The PSNI [ Police Service of Northern ireland] is refusing to state if it used anti-terror legislation to spy on journalists

It claimed that detailing its use of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act could undermine national security.

Last month it emerged police in Britain were using RIPA to view reporters’ phone records.

The Act regulates the powers of public bodies to carry out surveillance and investigation. However, police have secretly used RIPA to order phone companies to hand over journalists’ details.

It has fuelled fears that media organisations will not be able to protect sources, particularly police whistleblowers.

This ‘snoopers’ charter’ hands powers to a range of bodies and offices including the Secretary of State, the PSNI, the offices of the First and Deputy First Ministers and others – to carry out intrusive surveillance and investigations. There is provision for an official watchdog, the Investigatory Powers Commissioner for Northern Ireland – but last month the Belfast Telegraph Readers’ Editor Paul Connolly revealed that no judge was ever appointed.

In recent weeks police forces across the UK have been questioned about their use of RIPA.

The PSNI was asked, under Freedom of Information legislation, if it had used RIPA to investigate a journalist, or if it had a policy on using RIPA to identify sources.

However, it refused to answer the questions. It cited five exemptions in the FoI Act, including national security, law enforcement and data protection, in its refusal.

More than 40 other forces across the UK have also refused to disclose their use of RIPA.

Earlier this week it emerged the Association of Chief Police Officers had scuppered FoI requests by issuing blanket guidance.

The Press Gazette asked police forces that rejected FoI requests to provide internal correspondence.

Disclosures reveal ACPO told police not to comply with the requests. It told forces they would likely be able to reject those asking for information on RIPA stretching back 10 years on cost grounds.

But ACPO said that if a request could be responded to within the cost limit, national security should be cited in a rejection.

Media lawyers and Press freedom campaigners, including Liberty and the National Union of Journalists, have expressed deep concern about the police’s use of RIPA.

The Metropolitan Police used RIPA to secretly obtain phone records from The Sun newsdesk and its political editor.

And Kent Police also used the legislation to obtain the records from Mail on Sunday journalists after it revealed how former Cabinet Minister Chris Huhne illegally conspired to have his speeding points put on to his wife’s licence.