Police Scotland’s counter-corruption practices are to be reviewed after the force was found to have broken data rules five times in its attempts to unmask a journalist’s source.
The Interception of Communications Commissioner’s Office (IOCCO) said the force had been “reckless” in failing to obtain judicial approval when attempting to access communications data.
Justice minister Michael Matheson said that Police Scotland’s actions had “fallen short of the standards expected”, while the Scottish Police Authority (SPA) said it had asked HM Inspectorate of Constabulary to undertake a review of counter-corruption practices in light of the findings.
The breaches are understood to have been made by Police Scotland’s Counter Corruption Unit (CCU), which is under the control of Deputy Chief Constable Neil Richardson - one of three candidates in the running for the chief constable vacancy.
It has been claimed Police Scotland began the search for a journalist’s source after media reports about failings during the inquiry into the unsolved murder of Emma Caldwell in 2005.
The IOCCO investigation relates to use of the controversial Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA), which allows authorities to ask for the “who”, “when” and “where” of phone or e-mail communication, but not its content.
Sir Stanley Burnton, the Interception of Communications Commissioner, said Police Scotland had sought communications data to determine a journalist’s source or the “communications of those suspected to have been acting as intermediaries between a journalist and a suspected source”.
He said four people had been “adversely affected” by the contraventions.
Assistant Chief Constable Ruaraidh Nicolson admitted the force had not adhered to the guidelines, but said no journalists had been targeted.
He said: “IOCCO has noted that there was no evidence of an intentional act by Police Scotland to avoid the requirements of the code. A detailed action plan was put in place as soon as the issue was highlighted by IOCCO and no further recommendations have been made to Police Scotland.”
John Foley, the Scottish Police Authority chief executive, said: “The SPA considers that there are wider considerations raised by this case that would warrant further independent assurance work. We have requested an in-depth assurance review of the effectiveness of Police Scotland’s counter-corruption practices.”