Police Scotland’s covert investigations unit has been accused of committing “multiple breaches” of a new code intended to guard against unlawful spying on journalists.
The Acquisition and Disclosure of Communications Data code was introduced in March as a safeguard against the surveillance of journalists and their sources carried out with the intention of uncovering and punishing whistleblowers. However, The Sunday Herald claims the force has violated the code.
The code stated that forces must gain judicial approval before using the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) to unmask a journalist’s source.
But in July the Interception of Communications Commissioner's Office(IOCCO) watchdog revealed that it had identified two police forces which had acquired communications data to identify the interactions between journalists and their sources without obtaining judicial approval.
The Herald had claimed that one of the transgressors was Police Scotland’s Counter Corruption Unit, which breached the code in an attempt to identify a suspected journalistic source and middleman.
The IOCCO has said it would be “wholly inappropriate for us to name the two police forces whilst we are still in the process investigating fully these matters.”
It said: “Careful consideration has also had to be given to the fact that criminal investigations and legal proceedings are invariably active and we are not yet in a position to consider the impact or potential wider consequences of naming.”
The paper is now claiming that the force has also committed other violations of the code by the same Unit.
A Scottish government spokesperson told The Herald: “This is a matter for the IOCCO, who has made clear that it would be wholly inappropriate for it to make public the identity of the police forces while its investigation is on-going, and has set out the reasons for this.”
A spokesperson for Police Scotland said: “IOCCO has clearly set out rationale for not identifying organisations in its report and therefore it would be inappropriate to comment further.”
The IOCCO declined to comment.