Thursday, October 16, 2014

Protecting journalistic privilege in the UK

Recently we've learned that UK police have been abusing anti-terror laws to uncover journalists' sources. Now, the UK government is moving to end the practice:

Police will be banned from using anti-terrorism powers to monitor journalists’ telephones under plans to be detailed today by Theresa May.


Her intervention over police powers comes after it emerged that officers twice invoked the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (Ripa) to access the phone logs of reporters to identify the sources of stories.

Under a new code of practice to be published within weeks, officers will have to demonstrate they are investigating a serious crime and may have to get permission for the move from a judge.

Its a welcome move - and one we need to duplicate here. Currently, the police can seize a journalist's phone records, stored emails and text messages simply with a production order signed by a JP, and there's no recognition of journalistic - or even legal - privilege. And we have no idea how often they're doing it, because they don't even bother to count. While this is a useful investigative tool, the safeguards are clearly insufficient. Parliament needs to tighten them.