POLICE in Scotland attempted to track down journalists’ sources on at least 12 occasions, it has been revealed.
Seven applications to acquire communications data relating to journalistic sources were made between 2011-2014, according to details released to the Scottish Newspaper Society through freedom of information laws.
This is in addition to five applications for data linked to one investigation earlier this year, which the Interception Of Communications Commissioner’s Office (IOCCO) recently ruled had breached guidelines on accessing information without proper consent.
The IOCCO review was carried out after fears were raised officers had been ‘’illegally spying on journalists’’.
On Tuesday the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee is due to take evidence from Deputy Chief Constable Neil Richardson and Justice Secretary Michael Matheson on the interception of communications by Police Scotland.
Labour’s justice spokesman Graeme Pearson MSP said: “Policing in Scotland once had a world class reputation, but it has been dragged through the mud by a series of scandals this year, and the spying row asks serious questions about transparency and decision making at the top - be it senior management in Police Scotland or SNP Government ministers.
“On Tuesday Neil Richardson needs to set out what he knew, when he knew and what he did about it.”
Police Scotland Assistant Chief Constable Ruaraidh Nicolson said: “In October 2014, Police Scotland responded to a request from the Interception of Communications Commissioner’s Office (IOCCO) in respect of identifying the number of investigations where the acquisition of communications data related to journalistic sources.
“Of the seven identified investigations, four predate the formation of Police Scotland on 1 April 2013. Six of these applications were authorised and one refused.
“None of these seven applications concerned a journalist, and the six applications were legally and appropriately authorised under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) 2000’ and were later the subject of IOCCO inspection in the usual way.
“Communications data is an important investigative tool. As the public would expect, Police Scotland investigates all allegations of information breaches.”
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “The acquisition of communications data is an operational matter for Police Scotland who have confirmed that the applications were compliant with the relevant legislation, the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000.
“This activity has been subject to scrutiny by Interception of Communications Commissioner’s Office (IOCCO) who have responsibility for oversight in this area.”