London Mayor Boris Johnson has indicated that he is “supportive” of the Met’s use of anti-terrorism spying powers after being asked to investigate their use against journalists .
Since 2012 the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime (MOPAC) has had responsibility for holding the Met Police to account on behalf of the public.
Gavin Millar QC has said that the force's use of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 to spy on journalists is "completely illegal".
Press Gazette asked MOPAC two weeks ago if it was taking any action over the revelation that the Met Police secretly used RIPA to obtain the phone records of Sun political editor Tom Newton Dunn and calls made to The Sun newsdesk. The information was used to find and punish three officers who hadn't broken the law, but were accused of leaking information about the Plebgate incident.
Press Gazette also asked: “Will MOPAC take action to find out how many times police have used RIPA against journalists in contravention of European law?”
The mayor's press office did not give Press Gazette an answer but instead directed us to a response given this week to Green Party London Assembly Member Jenny Jones.
She asked: “Are you concerned that the Metropolitan Police obtained the telephone records of a journalist without his consent, and without any warrant or other court order, despite laws which entitle journalists to keep their sources confidential?"
The mayor said: "It would be inappropriate for me to comment on an operational matter further.
"The MPS use of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA) is scrutinised by the Office of the Surveillance Commissioner and the Interception of Communications Commissioner’s Office (IOCCO).
"In order to obtain such an authority under RIPA, officers must demonstrate that it is proportionate, legal and necessary and, in line with current practice, in this case the authorising officer was independent from the investigation team. I have been assured that managing collateral intrusion was considered at every stage and, so long as the police use of these powers is lawful and appropriate, I am supportive."
It appears that Johnson's office has no intention of investigating the matter further, deferring instead to the office of the Interception Commissioner – the body which has oversight of public authorities with powers to intercept and acquire communications data through RIPA.
Press Gazette's Save Our Sources petition has so far been signed by more than 900 people. It urges the IOCCO to take action to ensure that public authorities don't use RIPA to compromise confidential journalistic sources, but instead ask a judge and use the procedure set out in the Police and Criminal Evidence Act when seeking journalistic material.
The IOCCO has in turn said on its website that the "Investigatory Powers Tribunal is the appropriate forum for any complaint by a person who is aggrieved" by the use of RIPA surveillance.
The Investigatory Powers Tribunal is a secret court which gives "a right of redress for anyone who believes they have been a victim of unlawful action under RIPA or wider human rights infringements in breach of the Human Rights Act 1998".
But because RIPA surveillance is used secretly by police and other public authorities it is impossible for journalists to know whether or not they have been targeted.
Public authorities have made millions of requests for telecoms data under RIPA since the act came into force in 2000. In the four years to the end of 2013 the Investigatory Powers Tribunal has received some 717 complaints about use of RIPA, of which it has upheld six.
Press Gazette's question to the Mayor's Office for Policing and Crime in full:
I would like to know please if MOPAC is taking any action over the revelation that the Met Police secretly used the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act to obtain the phone records of Sun political editor Tom Newton Dunn and calls made to The Sun newsdesk.
According to Gavin Millar QC this was a clear breach of European law and the Article 10 protection it gives to journalists and their sources.
The action has been condemned by:
The National Union of Journalists
Index on Censorship
The Society of Editors
And journalists ranging from editor of The Sun to the editor of The Guardian.
Press Gazette understands that RIPA powers have been used by the Met against journalists to discover their sources a number of times in the past.
This is despite the fact that such requests are more properly made via a judge under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act.
Green LAM Jenny Jones has submitted several questions to the mayor about police use of RIPA.
The revelation police used RIPA to spy on law-abiding journalists and lawful sources was made in the closing report into Operation Alice by the Met Police.
Will MOPAC take action to find out how many times police have used RIPA against journalists in contravention of European law?