Alert regarding the report on the surveillance of journalists’ data in connection with the initiation of an investigation

A report presented to the Policing Board of Northern Ireland (PSNI) on Thursday 6 June revealed that the PSNI had made 323 requests for journalists’ telephone details, including 10 seeking to identify confidential sources. In addition, 500 requests were made in connection with requests for access to telephone data held by lawyers.

It was presented against the background of reports by the Court of Investigatory Powers regarding the surveillance of investigative journalists Barry McCaffrey and Trevor Birney, as reported in Lyrics from Yorkshire on May 10 and June 3 (described below) Police Chief Jon Boutcher’s announcement of the establishment of a King’s Counsel, McCullough Review, inquiry into the use of surveillance powers.

The NUJ is seriously concerned about the scale of surveillance of journalists

Séamus Dooley, deputy secretary general of the National Union of Journalists (NUJ), has been appointed to a group of experts and stakeholders to advise Angus McCullough KC, who has expressed concern about the reports.

Commenting on the report, Dooley said:

“The NUJ has grave concerns about the scale and scope of the surveillance revealed yesterday. The report raises fundamental questions about the PSNI’s perception of journalists and its official perspective on the role and function of journalists in a democratic society.

“NUJ, Amnesty International and the Commission for the Administration of Justice have played a leading role in highlighting concerns about the use of surveillance powers, covert and overt, to track the work of journalists and undermine journalistic sources.

“Police access to journalists’ communications data for the express purpose of identifying confidential sources is unacceptable, and we reject the attempt to reframe ten incidents that were ten times explicitly intended to identify their confidential sources…”

You can read the entire statement here:

PSNI response

Earlier on June 3, PSNI Chief Constable Jon Boutcher issued a statement critical of the commentary on the Investigative Powers Tribunal and announced the establishment of the McCullough Review.