Serving professional journalism since 1912

Magazine of the Chartered Institute of Journalists

Campaigning by the Chartered Institute of Journalists has succeeded in achieving better reporting on covert interception of journalists’ data and their sources by government bodies

The Institute’s President elect, Professor Tim Crook, has been credited in the Investigatory Powers Commissioner’s Annual Report for 2018 published Friday 5th March for achieving the release of more information.

The report states: ‘Whilst we were able to provide some of the information that Professor Crook requested, it was not possible to provide the information in full as this would have been prejudicial to national security and the ongoing functions of the public bodies overseen by IPCO.’

However, the IPCO has been persuaded by Professor Crook and the Institute that ‘we recognise that the statistics we produce in this area could be clearer and we will, therefore, work with the relevant public authorities on improving these for future reports.’

Professor Crook says “much more information needs to be disclosed in a system set up under the Investigatory Powers Act that does not properly protect the freedom of expression role journalists undertake in a democratic society.”

Although the report states that ‘203 communications data requests were made in relation to an individual of journalistic profession,’ Professor Crook argues that there needs to be a breakdown and identification of the 47 public bodies that could be involved.

More information needs to be disclosed about whether the information sought relates to confidential data held and communicated by journalists themselves, and whether the identity of a journalist’s source was being sought, or risked being revealed.

Professor Crook says: ‘In some other countries operating similar legislation, there is much more detail and explanation, including the identity of a news publisher or journalist affected.’

He added: “This is particularly important in view of the revelation that in 2018 “six applications were made for warrants under the IPA (Investigatory Powers Act) where the purpose was to obtain material which the intercepting agency believed would relate to journalistic confidential material.””

Professor Crook welcomes the introduction of double-lock safeguards through 2019 so that now following any Secretary of State authorisation, an IPA warrant affecting journalists’ sources cannot be issued until it has been approved by a Judicial Commissioner.

This relates to warrant applications by MI5, MI6, GCHQ, police forces and other state investigatory agencies.

However, the Institute and Professor Crook are adamant that the current regime of judicial oversight is still very poor compared to the operation of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984.

Professor Crook says judicial oversight would be better served by full court hearings with representation by the publications and journalists affected.

In the 2018 report there were only vague references to the kind of case involving interception of journalists’ communications data: ‘On the basis of our inspections, we are satisfied that in the majority of these cases, the application related to the protection of a witness or victim, for example in the case of harassment of an individual who falls into one of these professions.’

The 2018 report was compiled by the first Investigatory Powers Commissioner Lord Justice Fulford.

He said: “given the small numbers involved, we were able to examine a high proportion of casework in relation to confidential material.”

He added: “Our inspections confirmed that the safeguards in place at each authority in relation to journalistic material were adequate and that any access to this confidential material was properly considered and authorised.”

He has been succeeded by Lord Justice Leveson, who oversaw the well known 2011 inquiry into phone hacking and newspaper ethics.

The Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, said: “this Report demonstrates the high quality of the oversight of our intelligence and security agencies’ use of the most intrusive powers. I am satisfied that our arrangements are amongst the strongest and most effective in the world.”

For more information please click on the link embedded in this line.

Article by Tim Crook

Join the CIoJ LinkedIn group and contribute to discussion. You will need to sign up to LinkedIn in order to join the Institute’s group which currently has more than 500 members.