NMA: PACE and RIPA Applications Should be Made by Police Not Volunteers

The News Media Association has said that PACE and RIPA applications should be made by police, not volunteers. 

Responding to the Home Office consultation on reforming the powers of police staff and volunteers, the NMA said that applications to court for PACE powers or applications for RIPA powers should be made by the police and not available for designation to staff or volunteers.

The consultation contains a “core list” of powers that would not be available for designation to staff or volunteers but it only contains what it deems to be the “two most intrusive powers under RIPA.” 

NMA legal, policy and regulatory affairs advisor Kerry Nicholson said that the applications powers under RIPA should be included in the core list: “They can be used to access journalistic material, including material which could identify a journalist’s source. This is a very serious exercise of power – one that has come under continual scrutiny for its abuse and questionable constitutional legitimacy – and should not be made more widely available.

“Furthermore, the core list must in future contain all police powers that might be deployed in this way, especially those specific to journalistic material. This includes application for production orders under PACE 1984, Terrorism Act 2000 and other counter- terrorism legislation.

“Even if these powers can currently be deployed by others, this opportunity must be taken to place them upon the core list and confine their use to police officers holding the office of constable only.”

RIPA currently regulates the circumstances and methods by which public bodies may carry out covert surveillance. The Government intends to reform the law on investigatory powers and surveillance using the Investigatory Powers Bill.

It has yet to announce the content or form of this Bill but in the Queen’s Speech it was described as “better equipping law enforcement and intelligence agencies to meet their key operational requirements, and addressing the gap in these agencies’ ability to build intelligence and evidence where subjects of interest, suspects and vulnerable people have communicated online,” prompting concern from civil liberties groups. 

It specifically mentions communications data, where the Government claims previous laws have left a gap. The Government has also promised that the legislation will respond to the issues raised by David Anderson QC in his assessment of bulk surveillance powers used by the police and security forces under RIPA.

In July, a report by the Interception of Information Commissioner found that some police forces are still not obtaining the required judicial authorisation, criticising the new code of practice as “unclear and containing loopholes which have been exploited by the police forces.”

In a separate development, the Independent this morning revealed that police have used powers under the Terrorism Act to seize the laptop of a BBC journalist in a case which has alarmed free speech campaigners.