PSNI accessed journalists’ phone data 320 times

Man holding mobile phone to his ear
[Getty Images]

The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) has said it made more than 320 applications to access the communications’ data of journalists over the past 13 years.

On 10 of these occasions, it related to attempting to identify their sources by covert means.

The information is contained in 58-page report provided to the Northern Ireland Policing Board.

The PSNI said the vast majority of times it sought data was when the journalists were either victims, suspects or witnesses to crime.

The report also stated that during the same period, there were 500 applications for data relating to lawyers.

Calls for PSNI surveillance inquiry

Amnesty International and the National Union of Journalists have called for an inquiry into police surveillance activity.

It follows court allegations that a number of reporters have had their phones monitored unlawfully.

The report stated that on the 10 occasions police sought to identify a journalist's source, it involved investigations into the “unauthorised disclosure” of PSNI information or documents.

The PSNI said it makes around 8,500 communication data requests every year.

The report also revealed that in the period 2011-2024, the police authorised the use four informants or undercover officers “in respect of journalists or lawyers”.

No further details were given.

In a statement, the Policing Board said the report did not provide “all the assurance it needs”.

Earlier this week, Chief Constable Jon Boutcher announced that a review of surveillance will be undertaken by a lawyer, Angus McCullough KC.

'Report falls short'

Patrick Corrigan, Amnesty’s Northern Ireland director, said: “This report falls badly short of what is required.

“The extent of surveillance revealed goes well beyond the number of cases previously identified.

“The revelation that there were 500 applications for surveillance on lawyers, 365 of which related to private communications data, is simply startling.

“This report tells us nothing about how many of those incidents may have compromised lawyer-client confidentiality, a legally protected right.”