How Scotland Yard monitors prying bloggers and journalists


2:05 pm - February 22nd 2012

by Martin Williams    


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Although the police were happy to turn a blind eye to phone hacking at the News of the World, they’re making a habit of keeping tabs on innocent journalists and bloggers.

When a Freedom of Information (FOI) request is made it is meant to be dealt with “applicant and motive blind”.

But, Scotland Yard have a system in place where requests from journalists are flagged up. The ‘High Profile Request’ list is circulated to all internal departments in the police force, along with the full name of each requester.

The Met have admitted: “The list includes the applicant and if they are a known journalist that information is included”.

FOI staff are banned from releasing any information to journalists without getting express “approval” from the Met’s Press Bureau. It is unclear whether any disclosures have ever been denied because of pressure from the Bureau.

An email to staff said: ”You MUST obtain approval… before release if this request is from a journalist or identified as high risk.” It said that “high risk” FOI requests include “any request involving an identified member of the media.” It also includes requests from “VIP’s (MP’s etc)”.

Another email, sent in November, again reminded FOI officers of the policy. It said: “All High Profile FOIA requests – particularly those from journalists – continue to be of interest to DPA [Directorate of Public Affairs].” The message continued: if “you feel a request is generating issues which could result in media coverage and you have not already been contacted by DPA please contact Ed Stearns, Chief Press Officer.”

In a phone conversation I had with Ed Stearns in November he defended this policy. “We’d have to be aware if something is likely to become high-profile,” he said. “I don’t think that would be unusual to have that sort of flagged up.”

But how far does the Met pursue its interest in journalists and bloggers?

Three individuals, who have asked to remain anonymous, have claimed that Scotland Yard informally “investigated” them after they asked questions to the force.

In one case, the Police Central E-Crime Unit (PCeU) scrutinised articles written by a political blogger after he had talked to a police officer about his work. He claimed he was never charged for a crime and says he “found out accidentally” about the (informal) investigation when an officer “confessed” to having personally investigated his website. The PCeU said there had been no formal investigations into online media.

In my phone conversation with the Met’s Cheif Press Officer, Ed Stearns, I asked him whether the Met made a habit of investigating bloggers.

“Can you categorically say that it’s not regular practice of the Press Office to find out information about journalists?”

Well, I mean… if… umm… it depends, it depends what – I mean obviously if a journalist has… I mean… In what way do you mean ‘find out information’?”

“I wouldn’t rule it out that we would search on something like Twitter or Google News.”

This is probably fair enough – it is a press office after all. But the question is, does this research into journalists and bloggers affect what information is disclosed – and how quickly? Is this one reason for the Met’s continual FOI delays? After all, “flagging” is one thing, but why does the press office need to give “approval”? What happens if the Press Office does not grant approval?

The Met have attempted to justify their policy on FOI, saying: “The process is not intended to hinder or delay the release of information but to ensure that we release consistent information and are properly prepared for any potential consequences of the release.”

The Information Commissioner’s Office, meanwhile, states: “The correct approach in considering requests for information and the application of the exemptions and exceptions should be on the basis that the application could have been made by anyone, anywhere in the world, for any (non vexatious) reason.”

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About the author
Martin is a regular contributor, and a freelance journalist. He has written for the Guardian, The Independent, The Sun and The Mirror. He blogs at Access Docs and focuses on FOI and investigative journalism. His own website is here.
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Story Filed Under: Blog ,Civil liberties ,Law

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Reader comments


1. Chaise Guevara

The stuff about flagging sounds less like the police keeping special tabs on journalists, and more like them being especially careful not to make mistakes when releasing info about high-profile people.

This isn’t great, as it suggests they’re less concerned about releasing inappropriate or inaccurate information about Bob down the street, but it’s understandable and not creepy.

The allegations about them investigating people who make requests, if true, is a lot more worrying.

In one case, the Police Central E-Crime Unit (PCeU) scrutinised articles written by a political blogger after he had talked to a police officer about his work. He claimed he was never charged for a crime and says he “found out accidentally” about the (informal) investigation when an officer “confessed” to having personally investigated his website.

So, a blogger interviews a policeman. That policeman presumably reports the fact of that interview to his higher-ups (which is hardly an odd thing to do). Someone then googles that blogger’s name and reads his blog.

I’m not getting great wafts of Orwell from this, I have to admit.

I would be very concerned if a copper didn’t bother to Google or give a once over to an FoI requester’s blog. Curiosity is to be encouraged in policemen and detectives.

4. Fred-in-the-Green

This sounds very much like an attempt at damage limitation in view of the Levinson enquiry and Police accused of taking bribes from journalists. It makes sense that enquiries from journalists be treated with caution. Burnt child dreads the fire!

This looks to me like standard corporate arse-covering, and so not – at this point – something to be too worried about.

What is worrying are the plans by our liberty-loving Coalition Of The Chilling to bring back on old favourite – NuLab’s ‘Intercept Modernisation Programme’:

@OP, Martin Williams

Assuming that a ‘High Profile Request’ list exists, why do you not submit an FoI for its contents?

Logically, there should be two lists, of course. One list would contain names of persistent/enquiring requesters who raise questions in the public interest, and the Met might present arguments why those questioners are handled differently (but equally) with other citizens (call this one PR sense). A second list might include names who might be under investigation, so further inspection of the request may be necessary (call this operational sense).

Although the police were happy to turn a blind eye to phone hacking at the News of the World, they’re making a habit of keeping tabs on innocent journalists and bloggers.

I imagine it’s because nicely filled brown envelopes were involved in the former and are impertinently lacking from the latter.

Furthermore bloggers and Journo’s who make FOI requests of the police, rather than just accepting whatever statements are issued by their PR department at face value, are not usually going to be writing up pro-police stories. The rozzers take a rather dim view of being portrayed in a bad light, especially when its earned.

Scotland Yard is FULLY aware of my case, which is High Profile, but never flagged it up in 25 years: –

The following is a documented demonstration of the widespread corruption in the United Kingdom, which has ruined my life: –

In the public interest and the interest of justice, Trial by Jury must be restored immediately in the UK for the following reasons, which is only the tip of the iceberg: –

The Police in the UK are so corrupt that they will NOT investigate my case, as they were involved in unlawfully evicting me from my home on 30 March 1999: –

On 6th December 1996, I was unlawfully bankrupted by a single Registrar in Chambers: = behind closed doors. There was NO record made of this sham hearing, as there is NO transcript available for this FRAME-UP. Also there was NO independent witnesses allowed in the room. I was bankrupted for £68,831.31 and HMRC had NO proof of debt whatsoever. My house was worth £230,000 and I had a £26,000 mortgage. Therefore, I should never have been bankrupted. It was ALL FRAUD and CORRUPTION.

The following is what Summary Justice did to me. By the way, I was on PAYE on an Emergency Tax Code, where HMRC owed me thousands of £s in tax rebates. And they still do to this day: –
http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/feb/10/harry-redknapp-taxman-hmrc?commentpage=2#start-of-comments

Trial by Jury is democracy and Trial by Judge is tyranny.

Rupert Murdoch and his lieutenants never gave the victims of Summary Justice, like myself, a voice, because they promoted Summary Justice for their own ends. Murdoch and his employees corrupted the Police with bribes and, unless you could afford to pay the Police they would NOT look at a corruption case like mine. Notwithstanding that my case has cost the taxpayer millions of £s to date.

Report by Phillip Inman of The Guardian, Financial Section, Monday 25 August 2008
“Evidence put to the high court shows that Cullinane, far from owing tax, was due a rebate.”
http://www.guardian.co.uk/money/2008/aug/25/tax.taxandspending1

The police have told me on VIDEO that the robbery of my home and possessions is a civil matter: –
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IPtkWWcrkjM

How more corrupt can our Courts and Police force get?

HALSBURY’S LAW EXCHANGE
Shaping our legal future – 17 February 2012
Trial by jury: the importance of “ordinary” jurors
http://www.halsburyslawexchange.co.uk/trial-by-jury-the-importance-of-ordinary-jurors/#comment-14641

I hope that Scotland Year keep an eye on me after what I published about the Queen: https://andreasmoser.wordpress.com/2012/02/07/diamond-jubilee-elizabeth-ii/

11. Chaise Guevara

@ 10 Andreas

Why did you give that airtime? Dunno if it’s lost something in the translation, but that wasn’t satire, it was puerile mudslinging. They may as well have written “We hate the shitty Queen, she’s really shit” 40 times.

11 – I think you have missed the famous German sense of humour no? Yok yok!

13. George Wescott

TRIAL BY JURY IS DEMOCRACY
and
TRIAL BY JUDGE IS TREASON


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