Home Affairs Committee: RIPA ‘Not Fit for Purpose’

The home affairs select committee has described the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act as “not fit for purpose” but has failed to recommend changes to the primary legislation as called for by the news media industry.  

Publishing the select committee’s report on Saturday, chairman Keith Vaz said “the whole process appears secretive and disorganised” and called for “a full public consultation on an amended RIPA code of practice.”

The news media industry has warned that changes to the code would be insufficient to deal with the serious problems for journalism posed by RIPA and that only changes to the primary legislation followed by a transparent and effective review of the regime will be sufficient to safeguard journalism.  

Chair of the News Media Association legal, policy and regulatory affairs committee Lord Black of Brentwood wrote to the Home Secretary last week calling for changes to the primary legislation to include:

  • Mandatory prior judicial authorisation, injecting greater independence in the evaluation of applications such as those contained within the Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE);
  • Far stronger conditions for applicants to satisfy before any application or grant of such powers in any cases involving journalists, journalistic activities and journalistic sources; and
  • Automatic, mandatory rights of prior notification, inter parties hearings and rights of appeal for the media organisations and journalists affected.

Publishing the select committee’s report on Saturday, chairman Keith Vaz said: “RIPA is not fit for purpose. We were astonished that law enforcement agencies failed to routinely record the professions of individuals who have had their communications data accessed under the legislation. Using RIPA to access telephone records of journalists is wrong and this practice must cease. The inevitable consequence is that this deters whistleblowers from coming forward.

“The recording of information under RIPA is lamentably poor, and the whole process appears secretive and disorganised, without proper monitoring of what is being destroyed and what is being retained. We are concerned that the level of secrecy surrounding the use of RIPA allows investigating authorities to engage in acts which would be unacceptable in a democracy, with inadequate oversight.

“The Home Office has failed to publish its review within its own timetable, and not for the first time. It should hold a full public consultation on an amended RIPA Code of Practice, and any updated advice should contain special provisions for dealing with privileged information, such as journalistic material and material subject to legal privilege. It is vital that the Home Office use the current review of the RIPA Code to ensure that law enforcement agencies use their RIPA powers properly.”