IOCCO confirms Police Scotland illegally accessed phone records of journalistic sources

Sir Stanley Burnton

A government regulator has confirmed Police Scotland illegally accessed phone records to determine journalistic sources.

The police, who obtained the information of four individuals without judicial approval, said, however, that no journalists’ records were acquired.

Identifying journalists’ sources without judicial approval was made illegal in March this year but the Interception of Communications Commissioner’s Office (IOCCO) confirmed over the summer that two forces had breached the new law – though it declined to reveal which two at the time.

In August it was reported that Police Scotland was one of the forces. The second has not yet been revealed.

IOCCO has released a statement stating that the single force breached theAcquisition and Disclosure of Communications Data Code of Practice 2015 in regards to five applications for communications data.

Sir Stanley Burnton, the Interception of Communications Commissioner concluded the applications “failed to satisfy adequately the requirements of necessity and proportionality or to give due consideration to article 8 or article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).”

He added: “I am satisfied that four individuals were adversely affected by these contraventions and that the failures identified can properly be viewed as reckless.

“I have written to those individuals and provided them with sufficient information to enable them to engage the Investigatory Powers Tribunal effectively should they wish to do so.”

Sir Stanley noted that Police Scotland has since undertaken a comprehensive review and put in place “significant measures” to prevent future contraventions.

ACC Ruaraidh Nicolson, who has overseen the response to the IOCCO inspection, said: “Police Scotland can confirm that it did not adhere to the new guidelines covering access to communications data during a recent investigation into alleged serious breaches of information security.

“IOCCO has noted that there was no evidence of an intentional act by Police Scotland to avoid the requirements of the Code. A detailed action plan was put in place as soon as the issue was highlighted by IOCCO and no further recommendations have been made to Police Scotland.

“IOCCO has also commented on the robust and rigorous steps Police Scotland has taken to ensure processes for all applications for communications data are fully compliant with the Code of Practice and all legislative requirements.

“Police Scotland is aware that IOCCO intends to notify those individuals considered to have been affected. In consequence of that ongoing process, it would be inappropriate to comment further.”

Justice Secretary Michael Matheson announced that the Scottish Police Authority (SPA) has asked HM Inspectorate of Constabulary Scotland (HMICS) to “review the robustness of procedures around Police Scotland’s counter corruption practices.”

He said: “Any breach of the Code of Practice in this area is unacceptable and I expect Police Scotland to comply fully with any recommendations made by IOCCO. A free press is the cornerstone of a healthy democracy and we are committed to protecting the privacy of all law-abiding members of the public, including journalists.

“It is important to recognise that, since these breaches were discovered in July 2015, Police Scotland has been working on a robust action plan to ensure there have been no repeat of these incidents, and that it cannot happen again.”

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