UK police in Cleveland accidentally sent documents revealing that it has used controversial anti-terror laws to spy on journalists who had not committed any crimes to an area newspaper.
The Cleveland Police “erroneously” sent information to industry paper the Press Gazette indicating that it had used the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) to obtain telecommunications data while searching for a journalist’s source.
The publication reports that police asked them to delete the documents but says they were unwilling to do so because, “there is a strong public interest in disclosing it.”
RIPA, which regulates how authorities can intercept and monitor communications, is under increased scrutiny as it has emerged that at least four other U.K. police forces have used it to seize telecommunications data while hunting for journalists’ sources. The journalists affected have not been accused of any criminal wrongdoing.
Earlier this week it emerged that after the Metropolitan Police used RIPA to try and access the details of a single journalist in March after wireless carrier Vodafone accidentally provided the phone records of more than 1,500 users. Rather than deleting the data, the department analyzed it in a spreadsheet and stored it for seven months.”
In another incident, a local council used RIPA to follow and spy on a journalist meeting a source at a café as she investigated “allegations of wrongdoing within the council’s environmental services department,” ultimately “scuppering” her investigation.
Testifying before the Home Affairs Select Committee, the National Union of Journalists has also condemned police use of RIPA as “systemic,” arguing that it risks doing “irreparable damage.”
There is now an ongoing investigation into misuse of the Act by the Interception of Communications Commissioner’s Office (IOCCO), which is to be published in January 2015.