Row continues over use of surveillance powers

Human rights campaigners remain concerned about the repeated use of controversial powers to identify journalists’ sources.

It was recently revealed that police forces had routinely turned to the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) and forced networks to hand over the phone records and email logs of reporters.

There are now fears that the use of surveillance powers will discourage whistleblowers – who speak out on condition of anonymity – from contacting the press.

The Bureau of Investigative Journalists has already challenged the use of RIPA in the European Court of Human Rights – arguing that authorities were making it more difficult to expose cases of wrongdoing.

And now the row has escalated, after it emerged that the possible impact on journalists’ sources wasn’t even considered when RIPA was first drafted.

In the wake of the latest revelations, some MPs have said the law needs to be reviewed as a matter of urgency. They believe that police should not be able to access journalists’ records without a judicial warrant.

Criticising the use of RIPA, Lib Dem backbencher Julian Huppert said: “This is unacceptable. It risks jeopardising investigative journalism and freedom of speech. How will anyone be brave enough to contact a journalist in the public interest, if they know that very easily they can be tracked down?

“We are running out of time this parliament to actually fix this problem, not just talk about doing so.”

The Home Office has previously been accused of dragging its feet over the issue, although a number of cabinet ministers have voiced concerns that RIPA may be having a chilling effect on freedom of speech – as enshrined in Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Culture Secretary Sajid Javid said that the law needed to be changed to stop “spying on reporters and whistleblowers who are going about their lawful business.”

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