Scottish police obtain comms data in breach of Code to identify source

The Interception of Communications Commissioner, Sir Stanley Burnton, has found that Police Scotland breached a newly installed code of practice that is intended to protect journalists’ sources when police apply to obtaining communications datacomms data.

In a statement published today, the IoCC Office said that there had been contraventions of the Code in respect of 5 applications for communications data submitted by Police Scotland relating to one investigation. Police Scotland had sought communications data in order to determine either a journalist’s source or the communications of those suspected to have been acting as intermediaries between a journalist and a suspected source.

Police Scotland were found to have contravened paragraph 3.78 of the Code, under which judicial approval is required to acquire such communications data. Moreover, they 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). Some of the applications were also made by a person who was not independent of the investigation concerned: also a breach of the Code.

The revised Code – the Acquisition and Disclosure of Communications Data Code of Practice 2015 – came into force in March this year after it emerged in the “Plebgate” context that police were circumventing legal source protections.

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