Police used spy laws to flush out whistle-blowers 12 times

Neil Richardson

Police have confirmed they used spying laws to try and reveal journalistic sources 12 times.

Following months of refusing to give out the numbers, Police Scotland confirmed the cases as a parliamentary inquiry into the practice begins tomorrow.

Since March this year, police required to obtain judicial approval under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers (Scotland) Act 2000 to flush out sources and whistle-blowers who talk to journalists.

However, the Interception of Communications Commissioner’s Office has confirmed the single force acted illegally five times in securing the information.

The breaches pertained to newspaper articles on the botched investigation into the death of sex worker Emma Caldwell.

The Counter Corruption Unit (CCU) illegally gained access to telephone records of serving and former officers believed to have helped journalists.

Deputy chief constable Neil Richardson held the portfolio comprising the CCU and will now be questioned by Holyrood’s Justice Committee to explain the police’s illegal activity.

Scottish Newspaper Society director, John McLellan, sought information on historical applications made by the police, prompting them to admit seven other RISPA applications had been made in the three years preceding October 2014.

Of those seven, which were all legal, six were authorised while one was refused.

Mr McLellan said: “We might never know exactly why Police Scotland found it necessary to trace journalists’ sources on so many occasions, but this shows the extent to which they went to investigate matters that were almost certainly more about embarrassment than the public interest.”

Assistant chief constable Ruaraidh Nicolson said: “Communications data is an important investigative tool. Police Scotland investigates all allegations of information breaches.”

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