Answers needed on Police Scotland spying

It is fair to say that Police Scotland has had a difficult 12 months and the new Chief Constable has a serious amount of work to do if he is to restore morale among the rank and file and ensure the public can have confidence in the force.

One of the troubling incidents we have seen are reports that the Police unlawfully accessed the communications data of people suspected to be media sources. In simple terms, they ignored the rules and accessed personal communications data of certain officers who were suspected to have talked to journalists regarding an investigation.

The rules around police spying are there to protect our privacy and ensure that investigations are based on solid evidence. They should not be ignored simply because they might be inconvenient.

This week, another senior police officer was called before the Holyrood Justice Committee to explain how this situation came about. Unfortunately, the evidence session left us with as many questions as answers over how this substantial breach of the rules on accessing communications data was allowed to happen.

We know that senior officers raised concerns over the legality of requests to spy on the individuals involved. But the requests were approved regardless. We were told that this was due a misunderstanding over the rules. Hmmm.

The guidance on accessing communications data is very straightforward. Police Scotland’s account of how this came about is nowhere near as clear.

These were serious breaches and we need understand what went wrong here. Months after the first reports that Police Scotland had hacked communications data unlawfully, we are still no closer to a full account of how we got here. While we are told that steps have been taken to ensure this cannot happen again, we still also need further reassurances that the checks and balances that have now been put in place are working effectively.

The Justice Committee has requested that the four officers involved directly in the breaches of these spying rules come to Holyrood to give evidence. Police Scotland has refused to let them come up to this point. It is time that they changed their tune.

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