Police chiefs around the country have been ordered by the government’s communication watchdog to declare when they have used snooping powers to reveal journalists’ sources.
The Interception of Communications Commissioner Sir Paul Kennedy has launched the inquiry after the Mail on Sunday claimed officers from Kent police had used counter-terrorism measures to identify a source in the Chris Huhne speeding points saga, even though the judge had ordered for him to remain anonymous.
In a statement Kennedy said: ‘I fully understand and share the concerns raised about the protection of journalistic sources so as to enable a free press.’
He added he would be writing to every police chief constable in the country and asking them to provide details of all investigations that have used RIPA powers to identify journalistic sources.
Regulation of Investigatory Powers 2000 (RIPA) allows public bodies to carry out surveillance and intercept communications in the interest of national security, but journalists say these powers are being misused.
The National Union of Journalists (NUJ) has condemned this latest revelation, coming soon after the Metropolitan Police confirmed it had used RIPA powers to snoop on The Sun’s Political editor’s phone records as part of the plebgate investigation.
NUJ general secretary said: ‘The police clearly believe they are above the law they are there to uphold. Their utter contempt for journalism and a free press will be a paralyzing impact on whistleblowers who will think twice before ever picking up the phone to a journalist again.’
Last year polices forces and security services used RIPA to obtain communication records 514,000 times.
Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee Keith Vaz last night warned that no whistleblower is safe if police forces continue to ‘hack’ into journalists’ records.
He told the Mail on Sunday: ‘By seeking to expose the source – who first contacted the newspaper about the Huhne case – they have put every potential whistleblower from every walk of life in jeopardy.