Police surveillance targeted up to 18 journalists and lawyers in Northern Ireland, report uncovers

According to a report submitted to the Policing Board in Northern Ireland, the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) has been involved in surveillance incidents targeting journalists and lawyers. The report was handed to the board by PSNI chief constable Jon Boutcher, six months after it was requested. The report, which has not been made public, received criticism for its vague responses to questions about the PSNI’s use of covert surveillance. The report indicates that there were fewer than 10 incidents involving journalists and fewer than 10 incidents involving lawyers, suggesting a potential total of up to 18 surveillance incidents involving these professions. Amnesty International and the Committee on the Administration of Justice (CAJ) have called for an inquiry into the PSNI’s surveillance of journalists and lawyers. The Law Society of Northern Ireland has also raised concerns about solicitors being subject to surveillance and has requested an explanation from the chief constable. The PSNI’s surveillance of journalists Trevor Birney and Barry McCaffrey was revealed during an Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT) hearing, which disclosed that covert surveillance had been carried out on the journalists on three occasions between 2011 and 2018. Amnesty International UK director Patrick Corrigan called the disclosures “chilling” and called for transparency, scrutiny, and accountability from the PSNI. The Investigatory Powers Commissioner, Sir Brian Leveson, stated that enhanced safeguards have been introduced since 2019 to protect journalists from inappropriate access to their communications data by the PSNI. Durham Police and the PSNI unlawfully arrested Birney and McCaffrey in 2018, seizing their equipment and data. The arrests were later found to be unlawful, and the PSNI apologized and compensated the journalists. The IPT has adjourned hearings until the autumn due to delays and late disclosures of evidence. PSNI chief constable John Boutcher denied any widespread surveillance by the PSNI, stating that there has been no industrial application of surveillance powers against NGOs, journalists, or lawyers.

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