Brighton peer Jenny Jones has asked London mayor Boris Johnson about a secret trawl of a journalist’s phone records.
Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb, the first Green member of the House of Lords, asked the question in her capacity as a member of the Greater London Assembly.
Part of Mr Johnson’s job is to hold the Metropolitan Police to account as head of the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime.
Baroness Jones’s question was on the agenda for Mayor’s Question Time yesterday (Thursday 18 September) and is due to be answered in writing within a week.
She asked: “Are you concerned that the Metropolitan Police obtained the telephone records of a journalist without his consent, and without any warrant or other court order, despite laws which entitle journalists to keep their sources confidential?”
Her question follows the revelation that the Met obtained the phone records of Tom Newton Dunn, the political editor of The Sun. The force also trawled calls made to the newspaper’s newdesk.
It obtained the records, citing the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA), to find out which police officers had spoken to the newspaper about the “Plebgate” row.
Three officers were sacked as a result of the investigation which followed claims that the former government Chief Whip Andrew Mitchell had called officers plebs.
The Press Gazette journalism website said: “The Met used the phone records to find and sack three police officers accused of leaking information about the Plebgate affair even though the Crown Prosecution Service said they had no case to answer.
“RIPA can only be used to detect or prevent criminality and neither Tom Newton Dunn nor his alleged sources were found to have broken the law.
“So far the Met has refused to reveal how often it has used RIPA to secretly obtain journalists’ phone records in order to track down confidential sources.”
Press Gazette also said: “The Met Police has said it believes such use of RIPA is lawful.
“But top media law QC Gavin Millar said yesterday that he believes use of RIPA to obtain information about journalists’ sources without recourse to a judge is a clear breach of Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights (freedom of expression).”
Baroness Jones also asked Mr Johnson about trawling journalists’ email records.
She asked: “In 2013 the Metropolitan Police made 94,778 authorisations or notices for communications data. What oversight does the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime have over the Metropolitan Police’s requests for telephone records under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000?
“Under the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act 2014 the Metropolitan Police can obtain journalists’ email records. Please could you confirm if you would support the Metropolitan Police’s use of these powers in order to obtain journalists email records in cases other than terrorism? If so, please could you list the types of crimes where you would support the use of these powers.
“Under the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act 2014 the Metropolitan Police can obtain individuals’ email records as well as their telecommunication data. Please could you list the categories of crime where you would not support the police’s use of these powers?”