British lawmakers say spy law being abused to target journalists' records

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LONDON — British police have been misusing surveillance laws to access journalists' communications records, a panel of lawmakers said Saturday.

Parliament's Home Affairs Select Committee said it was unacceptable that police have seized reporters' phone and email data to try to determine sources of leaked information.

Committee chairman Keith Vaz said that using surveillance legislation "to access telephone records of journalists is wrong" and would deter whistleblowers from speaking to reporters.

The committee said in a report that a key piece of surveillance legislation, the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act or RIPA, was being used in a "secretive and disorganized" way that allowed it to be abused.

Their report follows revelations about two high-profile cases. In one, police seized telephone records from the Sun newspaper in a bid to find out who had leaked a story about Cabinet minister Andrew Mitchell's verbal altercation with police officers.

In the other case, police investigating a speeding infraction involving former government minister Chris Huhne secretly obtained the phone records of a journalist and one of his sources, even though a judge had said the source could remain confidential.

The report said police obtained the information despite a separate law stating that police must apply to a judge to seize journalists' records.

"We are concerned that the level of secrecy surrounding the use of RIPA allows investigating authorities to engage in acts which would be unacceptable in a democracy," the report said.

Security Minister James Brokenshire said the government was working on new regulations "to ensure extra consideration should be given to a communications data request involving those in sensitive professions, such as journalists."

The surveillance powers of British police and intelligence agencies have been under scrutiny since former NSA contractor Edward Snowden leaked details of spies' ability to monitor phone and online communications.

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