A police force has said it would not give consideration to whether someone was a journalist when making a Regulation of Investigatory Powers request for their phone records.
Cambridgeshire Police is among 41 forces to have rejected a Press Gazette Freedom of Information Act request for information on the use of RIPA against journalists.
Like 25 others, the force cited an exemption under cost, saying it would take too long to manually look through more than 800 applications over the ten-year period specified in the FoI (2004-2014).
In response, Press Gazette asked Cambridgeshire Police – and all other forces – to disclose internal emails discussing the FoI request.
These reveal that head of covert operations Tom Mackinnon has dealt with the vast majority of RIPA applications over the last 22 months.
Mackinnon said in an email to a colleague that he could not “recall a single such application that was related to journalism or an investigation into a journalist” during that time.
But he added: “It is possible that we have accessed the phone records of a journalist in the pursuit of the investigation of a crime with which they are associated but it is unlikely that their profession would be included in the application as we do not base decisions upon their occupations.”
So far, the only other force to respond is the Metropolitan Police, which has returned a heavily-redacted document (one page below). It did, however, reveal in the request, in the "limited knowledge of Communications data" of detective superintendent Frankie Flood, that "this is something we would answer on the same basis as all the other RIPA type requests for specific figures". The Met Police oficially rejected the FoI on cost grounds.
The third police force to respond to the internal email FoI was the City of London constabulary, which is rejecting all Press Gazette FoIs on the grounds that too many requests were recieved over a 60-day period.
It appears that police forces are treating RIPA requests targeting journalists and their sources in the same way as any other.
According to Gavn Millar QC this is "completely illegal" under European Law which gives special protection to source confidentiality under Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights (freedom of expression).
He said last month: "It’s completely illegal under article 10 [of the European Convention on Human Rights]… a violation of the article 10 [freedom of expression] rights of the journalist and the news organisation.
“But the evidence suggests they have started to do this without compunction – they’ve done it in a couple of cases I’ve been involved in.
“And I think what’s happened over the last few years is we’ve been so effective in litigating production orders, closing off production orders by forcing judges through judicial court decisions to strictly apply the access conditions in article 10.”
Press Gazette made the internal email FoI after being advised to do so by journalist Garrick Alder.