Lib Dems Call for New Laws to Curb RIPA Powers

The Lib Dems have tabled amendments to the Serious Crime Bill to keep up the pressure for better safeguards of journalists’ sources under RIPA.

MP Dr Julian Huppert tabled proposed amendments yesterday (Wednesday) to the Serious Crime Bill which would see a circuit judge being asked to decide police applications for communications data in respect of investigations of serious crime in defined circumstances. It also proposed the addition of safeguards in RIPA codes. There is some cross party support from other back bench MPs. 

The two tabled clauses would alter RIPA and would also cover legally privileged material and confidential personal information from healthcare professionals, ministers of religion and MPs.

However, the clauses would only apply to the police and to applications relating to the detection and prevention of serious crime, not all RIPA authorities and all grounds on which such applications might be made under RIPA.

The Prime Minister has said that he welcomed the Interception of Communications Commissioner’s report which “makes the case well” for judicial oversight to protect journalist sources.   

The Deputy Prime Minister has written to the Home Secretary to ask that changes be made before the election, saying that he hoped the government would “look urgently at drafting government amendments.”

The report from the  IOCCO found that more than 600 applications to uncover journalist’s sources were made by 19 police forces in the last three years. The report recommended judicial oversight to protect journalist sources.

The report followed 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.

Dr Huppert said: “As a matter of principle, police and security services should not be able to authorise themselves to snoop on journalists to get their sources. It may be convenient for the police, but it’s not right for freedom of the press and it’s not right for whistle blowers who need protection.”