Back in February, the UK Interception of Communications Commissioner found that police had spied on more than 80 journalists in a gross abuse of power. Since then, media outlets have been seeking further information about which police forces had conducted this spying and on whom. But the UK police have now decided that such questions are "vexatious":
Forty police forces across the country have dismissed as "vexatious" a BBC freedom of information (FOI) application about police monitoring of journalists' communications.Except that that is exactly what freedom of information was designed for: to allow public authorities to be held to account by the public, rather than their establishment mates. The fact that the UK police oppose this, and indeed regard it as "vexatious", says a lot about their attitude to public accountability for their abuses of power.
It appears the police have adopted a virtually blanket policy of now rejecting all FOI requests about the use of their surveillance powers to collect communications data on journalists - irrespective of the questions actually asked or how often, if at all, that requester has raised the issue before.
Last month the BBC asked all UK police forces for a copy of their submission to an inquiry by the Interception of Communications Commissioner into police operations relating to the confidential sources of journalists.
Forty forces have now responded in a very similar fashion that the BBC's FOI application does not have to be answered on the basis it is "vexatious", due to the "burden on the authority" and the "unreasonable persistence" of requesters. If an FOI request is vexatious, then the public authority receiving it does not have to consider its substance.
Nearly all the forces have also argued to us that "FOI was never designed to enable applicants to continue a campaign or determined pursuit of information when there are concerns over public authority activities, if these activities have been adjudged to be correct and appropriate".
(FWIW, the Information Commissioner has since ruled that such requests are not vexatious
Correction: removed comment about ignoring the law. This is what happens when I don't check the date on an article I see over Twitter...