A special branch of Police Scotland is one of two UK bodies under investigation for using covert methods to identify journalist’s sources.
The Sunday Herald has unveiled the Scottish Police’s Counter Corruption Unit (CCU) as one force under surveillance watchdog IOCCO's investigation over allegations it was snooping on conversations between journalists and their sources.
Using the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA), the body was found to be used to access the phone, text or email records – but not the actual content – of communications between members of the press and sources.
As of March 2015, police forces needed judicial approval to snoop on the sources of journalists – the CCU and another UK body (yet unidentified) were been found guilty of “serious contraventions” of IOCCA's code of conduct.
The body also flagged up a number of incidents when the force failed to justify the “necessity and proportionality” of its surveillance on members of the press in a majority of cases.
IOCCA last month said in a report: “Two police forces have acquired communications data to identify the interactions between journalists and their sources in two investigations without obtaining judicial approval.
“These breaches were identified during our inspections. In these cases the normal RIPA process was used and the data was approved by a designated person.”
It is commonly argued that RIPA infringes upon Article 10 of the European of Human Rights giving journalists the right to protect their sources.