I assume the Deputy is referring to the accessing of retained communications data under the Communications (Retention of Data) Act 2011. No suggestion has been made, other than by the Deputy, as to the ‘hacking’ of phones. The data available under the 2011 Act is subscriber and traffic and location data - not the content of communications - and it may only be accessed by the relevant bodies empowered to do so, for the purposes prescribed and under the terms set out in the Act in accordance with the respective statutory duties of the bodies involved.
There is simply no question of widespread or mass surveillance of the general public. That would be unlawful and does not take place.
Issues of genuine concern have been raised recently as to the balance in the law concerning the important freedom of journalists to pursue legitimate matters of public interest. I recognise fully the legitimate concerns about the issue of access to journalists’ telephone records and it is for that reason I have established an independent review, to be carried out by Mr. Justice John Murray, the former Chief Justice.
There are complex, competing rights in question here that go to considerations of the freedoms of journalists to pursue their legitimate work and, for example, the fundamental right to privacy of every individual.
The purpose of focusing the independent review on the issue of the freedoms of journalists is in order to ensure that particular issue of concern can be addressed quickly.
It is important to keep the general law in this area under review and, indeed, that is exactly what is done on an ongoing basis by my Department.