Police chiefs around the country have been ordered by the government’s communication watchdog to declare when they have used snooping powers to reveal journalists’ sources.

The Interception of Communications Commissioner Sir Paul Kennedy has launched the inquiry after the Mail on Sunday claimed officers from Kent police had used counter-terrorism measures to identify a source in the Chris Huhne speeding points saga, even though the judge had ordered for him to remain anonymous.

What are you looking at? Flickr under creative comms, nolifebeforecoffee

What are you looking at? Flickr under creative comms, nolifebeforecoffee

In a statement Kennedy said: ‘I fully understand and share the concerns raised about the protection of journalistic sources so as to enable a free press.’

He added he would be writing to every police chief constable in the country and asking them to provide details of all investigations that have used RIPA powers to identify journalistic sources.

Regulation of Investigatory Powers 2000 (RIPA) allows public bodies to carry out surveillance and intercept communications in the interest of national security, but journalists say these powers are being misused.

The National Union of Journalists (NUJ) has condemned this latest revelation, coming soon after the Metropolitan Police confirmed it had used RIPA powers to snoop on The Sun’s Political editor’s phone records as part of the plebgate investigation.

NUJ general secretary said: ‘The police clearly believe they are above the law they are there to uphold. Their utter contempt for journalism and a free press will be a paralyzing impact on whistleblowers who will think twice before ever picking up the phone to a journalist again.’

Last year polices forces and security services used RIPA to obtain communication records 514,000 times.

Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee Keith Vaz last night warned that no whistleblower is safe if police forces continue to ‘hack’ into journalists’ records.

He told the Mail on Sunday: ‘By seeking to expose the source – who first contacted the newspaper about the Huhne case – they have put every potential whistleblower from every walk of life in jeopardy.

Profile photo of Tom Wright About Tom Wright
News writer for The Justice Gap and student journalist at the University of Winchester

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6 Comments

  • George Gretton October 6, 2014 5:57 pm

    Hello Tom,

    Let’s not get “hysterical and inflammatory tabloid” about this.

    “Paralysis” is an over-hype to use.

    Both journalists and whistle-blowers, such as I am, are far more resilient and determined, and NOT the paralysed pushovers suggested in the title.

    Let’s address these cases one by one, in an effective way, that will give a message.

    Each time a Police Officer over steps the mark of what is appropriate and legal, then get that individual officer DISCIPLINED, which may involve criminal charges and a court case.

    Let it be made clear that law-enforcers who do not themselves observe the law itself are just another class of criminal.

    Police Forces need to have these duds weeded out, so that they do not bring decent and honest and dedicated Officers into disrepute.

    Yours, George Gretton

  • John H October 6, 2014 11:11 pm

    The police in this country are no longer due respect

    • George Gretton October 8, 2014 8:44 am

      Hello John H,of the No-Family Name,

      I don’t think that your generalisation does anything useful for anybody who lives in the real world.

      I encounter many Police Officers in my Anti-Fraud work.

      I find many obstructive, including Officers at a Senior level. They seem to think that by simply not responding to what I am bringing to their attention I will go away, which I won’t; I’m working towards getting a number of blatant criminals, especially those with privileged backgrounds, as have I, banged up in Prison for a while.

      I also encounter young Police Officers, such as a Graduate in Biomedical Sciences that is currently working as a Civilian 101 Operator in Thames Valley.

      The fact that she had that degree was really reflected in the way she recorded my complaint – of an attempt, by two individuals in this instance – to pervert the course of Justice, by making a false and vexatious Harassment Complaint against me, in order to discredit me in the eyes of the Police – a tactic now familiar to me.

      I thanked her, and commended her for looking into a Police Service Career. I showed her respect because she had just earned it. What do you think that she would think about your wet blanket statement?

      Would she feel encouraged to do her bit to contribute to the wellbeing of her Police Force, and thus to the Community that it Serves?

      George Gretton

  • John H October 8, 2014 12:11 pm

    I DO live in the ‘real world’ & that’s why I no longer think they deserve my respect AND I’m entitled to MY opinion as are you

    Also why the sarcasm about my name? I put H so I wouldn’t be trolled by people like you

    • George Gretton October 10, 2014 8:46 am

      Wow, John H,

      You don’t specify what instances have led you to withdraw your generalised respect for the Police Officers.

      Do you, or do you not, make the assertion “All Police Officers are bad”?

      I have stated my own opinions, and have not denied you yours. I disagree with you in this area, and exercise my freedom of speech in a responsible way.

      When it comes to your surprising-to-me suggestion that I am a troller, then I ask you how many trollers troll in their own open and honest name, so that they can be held ACCOUNTABLE for what they say?

      I also suggest that you study the psychological mechanisms that Sigmund Freud and Carl Yung arrived at, of “projection” and “transference”; and that you try looking in a mirror, and work towards self-awareness.

      This site has an inspiring and uplifting name. I have sincerely posted many times here, and been uplifted by many sincere posts by others.

      But that does not stop it being a free-for-al, with the ever-present feet of clay. I may simply disconnect if there are too many posts that I regard as cranky and inappropriate, as resorting to personal issues what technical thought runs out.

      Yours, George Gretton

      • John H October 10, 2014 10:15 pm

        As a now retired litigator I have seen both good but regrettably more often the bad side of the police. In recent years they have become a tool of government and are no longer an independent body who’s only purpose was & still should be to protect the citizens.

        As for the judiciary all too often, by no means all, some judges show their bias to the detriment of either the accused or in civil matters the litigant AND as legal aid has been almost wiped out the courts are filling up with LiP’s (Litigants in Person) & that is causing undue delay & cost to the process of administrating law

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