Journalists making repeated Freedom of Information (FOI) requests about the Metropolitan Police’s use of snooping powers have been “disappointing” and it sees “little value” in continued requests on the topic, the police force has said.
The comments came as the police force issued another FOI response saying that questions from journalists about its use of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) are vexatious.
The latest request asked the Met for the “materials” which were sent, by the force, to the Interception of Communications Commissioner’s Office for its investigation into police use of RIPA to obtain journalists sources.
Sir Anthony May, the Interception of Communications Commissioner (IOCCO), recommended that police should obtain permission from a judge before using the snooping power on journalists’ phone records. Prime Minister David Cameron accepted the recommendations.
The Commissioner’s response stopped short of saying that police use the powers to “randomly trawl” through data to identify journalists contacts but said 608 applications had been made to access data relating to journalists.
In its refusal of the most recent FOI request, the Met admitted there has been occasions where “things did not go as well as we hoped” with RIPA. This, the Met said, alongside the IOCCO report, weakened the public interest in releasing more information.
“It is primarily this, coupled with unreasonable persistence on the subject that must lead us to now consider there to be little value in the continued application of requests under the Act on the subject.”
Detailing questions the force has been asked about its use of the powers, the refusal said that “experienced investigative journalists” should have realised that what they were asking for was from a “sensitive environment” and they were unlikely to get the information they wanted.
“It is therefore somewhat disappointing if they did not already have a feel for the fact that the initial responses would not include disclosure of the low level data required,” the FOI response said.
“Even if they had no concept the initial responses to the early requests often contained lengthy explanations of the issues in a balanced and informative format.”
According to the force there has been 16 FOI requests asking about the interception of communications data since the start of the year – 14 of these relate to journalists with many being “identically worded or substantially similar”.
It said that “warnings” about asking for the same information were issued from December.
The Met also made a point in highlighting that previous requests about journalists and RIPA have “attracted negative articles in many national press publications”.
It then provided a link to a Press Gazette story on 40 police forces refusing requests about their use of RIPA powers.
Earlier this month the Met barred Press Gazette from requesting information about its use of RIPA to spy on journalists after a serious of probing questions were asked.
Journalists and others ‘fishing’ for information was one of the main reasons for the force deciding that the latest request was vexatious and a burden on its resources.
“Primarily, the burden on the authority, unreasonable persistence, unfounded accusations (albeit we accept there are no accusations within the requests per se), frequent or overlapping requests and ‘fishing’ for information,” the force explained.