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  5. SNS welcomes justice minister’s intervention in row over police monitoring of journalists
Scottish justice minister Michael Matheson
Scottish justice minister Michael Matheson
Scottish justice minister Michael Matheson

The Scottish Newspaper Society today welcomed a commitment by Scottish justice minister Michael Matheson to ensure that Police Scotland complies with the code of conduct which regulates official access to journalists’’ records.

Although as yet unconfirmed, Police Scotland is thought to have been one of two forces which traced a journalist’s sources using telephone data without the approval of a judge, a breach of the Interception of Communications Commission rules.

In a speech to the Scottish Parliament, Mr Matheson said: “The press must be able to operate freely and with appropriate protections and no individual should have their communications data improperly accessed.”

Scottish Newspaper Society director John McLellan commented: “Mr Matheson’s statement is very welcome, but it should be a matter of great concern that he had to make it in the first place.

“Police Scotland has repeatedly refused to supply any information about any monitoring they may have been carrying out on journalists and their sources, but I think it is safe to assume the fact Mr Matheson was forced to address the issue in the Scottish Parliament means Police Scotland does indeed have serious questions to answer.”

Police Scotland’s rejection of an SNS request for information about improper Police use of the Regulation of Investigative Powers Act in now the subject of an appeal to the Scottish Information Commissioner. John McLellan added: “Police Scotland could save everyone a lot of time by coming clean now and starting their relationship with the Scottish Press afresh.”

Mr Matheson’s statement was part of a wide-ranging speech looking at recent controversies surrounding Police Scotland’s operations. The relevant passage in his speech was as follows:

“Media interest over the summer has also focused on reported breaches of the Code of Practice on the Acquisition and Disclosure of Communications Data which came into force on 25 March this year.

“A final determination by the Interception of Communications Commissioner is awaited.

“IOCCO has made clear it would be inappropriate for it to identify the forces under investigation while its investigation is ongoing and has set out clear reasoning for that position. In light of the ongoing investigation, it would not be appropriate for me to comment further, other than to say Ministers expect all public authorities in Scotland to comply with the Code of Practice on accessing communications data.

“The press must be able to operate freely and with appropriate protections and no individual should have their communications data improperly accessed.”