Police and Ripa requests

Are there questions to be answered?

One of the interesting questions raised by the developing scandal into the use of phone-tapping by tabloid reporters and private investigators is: how did they get the telephone numbers and other data, such as PIN codes?

The usual explanation is that there were "blagging" exercises: someone would call the telephone company a number of times and would gradually eek the relevant details out by deception. This may well be true, though it would be time-consuming and possibly unsuccessful.

There are other ways, which are quicker.

For example, there may have been individuals at the telephone companies happy to provide such information.

But the police themselves have extraordinarily wide powers under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (Ripa) to demand any and all data from telephone companies in respect of an account or an individual: hundreds of these "Ripa notices" are issued every day, usually on standard forms, with all the data then provided by return.

There is currently no evidence that the police wrongly used their Ripa request powers to pass on (or even sell) information to reporters and private investigators. So I am not making any suggestion of wrongdoing, and my suppositions here may well be wrong.

All that I am suggesting is that there was another – quicker and far more effective – way for the reporters and the investigators to obtain information, instead of blagging. And this alternative means is also consistent with the known facts and could perhaps explain the reluctance of the police to progress their investigations.

As it would clearly be in the public interest to put the matter beyond all doubt, I have submitted two Freedom of Information requests on this to the Metropolitan Police.

Let's see what happens.

David Allen Green is legal correspondent of the New Statesman. He is also a practising telecoms and media lawyer.

David Allen Green is legal correspondent of the New Statesman and author of the Jack of Kent blog.

His legal journalism has included popularising the Simon Singh libel case and discrediting the Julian Assange myths about his extradition case.  His uncovering of the Nightjack email hack by the Times was described as "masterly analysis" by Lord Justice Leveson.

David is also a solicitor and was successful in the "Twitterjoketrial" appeal at the High Court.

(Nothing on this blog constitutes legal advice.)

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Who will win the Copeland by-election?

Labour face a tricky task in holding onto the seat. 

What’s the Copeland by-election about? That’s the question that will decide who wins it.

The Conservatives want it to be about the nuclear industry, which is the seat’s biggest employer, and Jeremy Corbyn’s long history of opposition to nuclear power.

Labour want it to be about the difficulties of the NHS in Cumbria in general and the future of West Cumberland Hospital in particular.

Who’s winning? Neither party is confident of victory but both sides think it will be close. That Theresa May has visited is a sign of the confidence in Conservative headquarters that, win or lose, Labour will not increase its majority from the six-point lead it held over the Conservatives in May 2015. (It’s always more instructive to talk about vote share rather than raw numbers, in by-elections in particular.)

But her visit may have been counterproductive. Yes, she is the most popular politician in Britain according to all the polls, but in visiting she has added fuel to the fire of Labour’s message that the Conservatives are keeping an anxious eye on the outcome.

Labour strategists feared that “the oxygen” would come out of the campaign if May used her visit to offer a guarantee about West Cumberland Hospital. Instead, she refused to answer, merely hyping up the issue further.

The party is nervous that opposition to Corbyn is going to supress turnout among their voters, but on the Conservative side, there is considerable irritation that May’s visit has made their task harder, too.

Voters know the difference between a by-election and a general election and my hunch is that people will get they can have a free hit on the health question without risking the future of the nuclear factory. That Corbyn has U-Turned on nuclear power only helps.

I said last week that if I knew what the local paper would look like between now and then I would be able to call the outcome. Today the West Cumbria News & Star leads with Downing Street’s refusal to answer questions about West Cumberland Hospital. All the signs favour Labour. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.