RIPA: Government Accepts Recommendation for Judicial Oversight of Applications

A report by the Interception of Communications Commissioner’s Office recommending judicial oversight for police applications to identify journalists’ sources under RIPA has been accepted by the government. 

Following publication of the report yesterday (Wednesday), the Prime Minister’s official spokesman was reported as saying: “He very much welcomes the report. He believes that the report makes the case well for the judicial oversight it recommends in cases of data comms applications that are relevant to journalistic sources and that is why the Government is accepting that recommendation.”

The news follows an industry campaign in which the News Media Association, Media Lawyers Association, local and national publishers and editors, Press Gazette, Society of Editors  and politicians including George Osborne, Nick Clegg and Sajid Javid united to express their deep concerns about the use of RIPA to uncover journalists’ sources and to call for judicial oversight of the application process.

Pia Sarma, Times Newspapers Limited editorial legal director, wrote a blog post welcoming the IOCCO’s recommendation for judicial oversight.  Pia wrote: “News UK welcomes the recommendation today that a judge should authorise applications under RIPA when police forces use the law to identify sources.

“The recommendation came in a report by the Interception of Communications Commissioner’s Office following concerns raised across the industry that police forces were regularly using RIPA to identify journalists’ sources. News UK and its titles told the Home Office that the proposed Codes of Practice failed to protect sources, asking for judicial oversight of the process. The campaign led to an inquiry overseen by the Interception of Communications Commissioner. Sir Anthony May, the current Commissioner, today agreed with the industry view and said the police forces had not given due consideration to freedom of speech.

“The report confirmed the widespread concerns about the use of RIPA to target sources, revealing that 34 investigations had been sparked by suspicions that information had been leaked or supplied to journalists. Police forces have authorised 608 applications over the last three years in this way. The report said that the majority of those applications had been given the go ahead without consideration of the public interest or whether there was any risk to sources.”

The report said that changes to the communications data codes, as proposed in a Home Office consultation would not “provide adequate safeguards to protect journalistic sources or prevent unnecessary or disproportionate intrusions.”

Deputy Prime Minster Nick Clegg wrote to Home Secretary Theresa May to say that he hoped the government would “look urgently at drafting government amendments” legislating for judicial oversight of applications at the report stage of the Serious Crime Bill in the House of Commons on 23 February.