A regional daily editor has welcomed plans to overhaul controversial laws that have been used by police to gain access to journalists’ mobile phone records.
The Home Office has announced an overhaul of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 amid concern that police have used it to identify journalists’ sources.
Journalists whose records were accessed under the act include Mark Bulstrode while working at the East Anglian Daily Press in 2006.
EADT editor Terry Hunt has welcome the Home Office announcement, saying police acted “wholly inappropriately” in accessing Mark’s phone records.
Terry said the incident occurred after Mark learned that detectives had re-opened an historic rape inquiry.
He said: “When he asked Suffolk police about it, they requested that we didn’t publish anything because a story at that stage could have jeopardised the inquiry.
“As a responsible regional newspaper, we agreed to that request and didn’t publish a story.
“However, in the following weeks, Mark became concerned about the amount of information police knew about him, so he requested to see this, using the Data Protection Act.
“It was at that stage that he, and we, learned that his phone records had been accessed by the police, in an attempt to identify his source.
“I lodged an official complaint with the then Chief Constable, but the police stood by their actions. This is a law intended to help police track down terrorists and criminals – not a device to identify journalists’ sources.”
“The police acted wholly inappropriately. We had already agreed not to publish the story, at their request.
“This law needs tightening to avoid misuse, and I’m pleased the Government appears to be taking this issue seriously.’’
The proposed law change comes follows pressure from the Society of Editors as well as a campaign by media website Press Gazette.
A Home Office spokesman said: “A free press is fundamental to a free society and the Government is determined that nothing is done which puts that at risk.
“We have been working to strengthen the relevant code to ensure extra consideration should be given to a communications data request involving those in sensitive professions, such as journalists.”
It is anticipated that the revised law will be put before Parliament later this year.
Suffolk police has previously confirmed they used RIPA to access the phone records of Mark Bulstrode, who now works for the BBC.
Deputy Chief Constable Gareth Wilson said: “In 2006, a RIPA application was used to access the phone records of a journalist. This was following allegations of inappropriate communications between the journalist and a serving police officer, which had the potential to impact upon a police investigation.
However Terry rejected the police’s description of events.
“I do not agree with the use of the description ‘inappropriate communications’ between a journalist and a police officer. Mark Bulstrode was simply doing his job as a reporter,” he added.