RIPA: Police Not Adhering to New Code to Protect Journalists’ Sources

The Interception of Information Commissioner has found that some police forces are still not obtaining the required judicial authorisation before using RIPA to identify journalists’ sources.

Interception of Information Commissioner, The Rt Hon Sir Anthony May, has delivered his final half yearly report, five months after his report on the use of RIPA to identify journalistic sources. The Commissioner assessed how his earlier report had been acted upon by Government, ultimately criticising the resulting code of practice as unclear and containing loopholes which have been exploited by the police forces.

The Commissioner praised the Government on their receptiveness to the recommendation that judicial approval should be required before communications that may reveal a source can be intercepted.

However, he highlighted that the speed at which the resulting code was enacted has led to a lack of clarity. The code refers to the identification of a journalistic source, as opposed to the determination of a source, which leaves ambiguity where the source is already suspected and the police seek confirmation or corroboration.

Of particular concern is the finding that, since the requirement to obtain judicial approval came into force in March, two police forces have acquired communications data to identify interactions between journalists and their sources without obtaining the necessary approval.

In both cases, the source was either known by the police or under their suspicion. Instead of seeking judicial approval, the ordinary RIPA process was used and the data was approved by a designated person, not a judge. This was not the case across all police forces, as some applications under the revised procedure have been sent to the courts despite significant pressure from the investigative teams that since the source was already known to them, judicial approval was not needed.

News Media Association legal, policy and regulatory advisor Kerry Nicholson said: “The report attributes the lack of clarity in the revised code of practice to the Government’s failure to engage with stakeholders at the drafting process, and urges it to consult widely before bringing in new, clear legislative measures that will protect sources in the way in which Article 10 requires.

“It is of vital importance that robust safeguards to protect journalists sources are included as part of the reform of this regulatory framework.”