Police held accountable for abusing snooping powers

Credit: Alec Perkins

(Acclaimed News) A British regional daily, the Oxford Mail, has won the latest round of its battle to get information from the Thames Valley police under the Freedom of Information Act. Police have been spying on journalists, abusing the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) in order to gain access to their phone records and the names of people they have been in contact with.

The Oxford Mail’s FOI request was filed following disclosure by the Interception of Communications Commisisoner that 19 police forces had used RIPA to spy on journalists’ phone records. The FOI request asked the Thames Valley Police whether they were one of those 19, a request that the police force tried to dismiss as “vexatious” and time-consuming.

The ruling by the Information Comisisoner is the first time that a police force has been asked to turn over information under FOI. Thames Valley Police has 35 days to comply or to appeal the ruling.

This ruling is a small victory in the struggle to hold police accountable in their use of the extensive powers granted them by anti-terrorism legislation. A major issue at stake is the protection of sources, one of the pillars of journalistic integrity.

Oxford Mail editor Simon O’Neill, said:

“RIPA is there for a very good reason. But that reason is not to snoop willy-nilly on journalists going about their lawful business with no oversight or accountability.

“It is just a shame that forces, driven no doubt by the Association of Chief Police Officers, have been so incredibly unhelpful and secretive about this. It’s worth remembering that if they can do it to a journalist, they can do it to anyone.

“We really have to guard against the steady creep of authoritarian powers and the state secrecy that goes with it.

“It makes an absolute mockery of any claims that we live in a truly open society when these powers are targeted against the very people they are meant to protect.”