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October 8, 2014

Society of Editors warns PM that police appear to have no regard for ‘sanctity of sources’ with RIPA use

By William Turvill

The executive director of the Society of Editors has written to the Prime Minister to express concern over the use of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act to find journalists’ sources.

Bob Satchwell also questioned in the letter why more than 25 police forces have refused to answer Press Gazette’s Freedom of Information request to provide details on their use of RIPA against journalists (31 forces have no decliend the request).

“This rides roughshod over protections for journalists’ sources in other legislation and protocols that are frequently upheld by the courts – and indeed endorsed by politicians,” Satchwell wrote.

“Clearly the use of RIPA in this way has implications that extend far wider than the vital role of journalism in society, to the public generally and indeed for Parliament that enacted the legislation.”

He told David Cameron that he believed RIPA was enacted to fight terrorism and major crime rather than obtaining journalists’ sources.

Some 11 police forces have cited the interests of “national security” in their letters declining to tell Press Gazette whether they have the information requested.

Satchwell said: “According to Press Gazette more than 25 police forces have refused to provide details under the Freedom of Information Act, some saying it would cost too much to find the information.

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“Others have used the excuse of protecting ‘national security’ or the need to protect their tactics from criminals. In the two matters which have made headlines, the so-called ‘Plebgate’ affair and the Huhne speeding points case, journalists were targeted without any apparent suggestion of criminality on their part or that national security was involved.

“There appears to be no any evidence of attention by the police to the sanctity of journalists’ sources, nor for the role of whistleblowers who are also supposed to be protected by the law.”

He added: “Inquiries by the Interception of Communications Commissioner and the Home Affairs Select Committee are clearly much-needed and welcome. The public, as well as the media, want to be reassured that the police are only using RIPA in the way Parliament intended, and certainly not to undermine or attack genuine journalistic inquiries into matters of public interest.

“Regardless of the outcome of the inquiries the Society of Editors would like to know how the Government intends to ensure that important protections for journalists and whistle-blowers can be reinforced.”

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