Friday, 8 August 2008

The British secret files (I)

On July 17, 2008, the head of the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) sent a letter to the Public Prosecutor Melchior Gomes, after a meeting with him, complaining about the intention of Portuguese authorities to give access to third parties to informations sent by British police to PJ, because, among other reasons, a large part of the intelligence reports from British police had unsubstantiated information related with identifiable persons. The letter was reviewed by William Hughes, head of Serious Organized Crime Agency (SOCA) and is signed by Ken Jones, chairman of ACPO. The arguments on this letter are exactly the same that were used, latter, by Portuguese lawyers, hired to present a formal request to Portuguese authorities, asking for those informations to remain confidential, according to the investigation files.

The Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO), the Chief Constable of Leicestershire, the Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA), Crimestoppers and several British police forces and judicial bodies presented a formal request to the Portuguese Public Prosecutor's Office to keep secret almost all the information made available by those organizations to PJ.

One of the most prestigious Portuguese legal offices – “Morais Leitão, Galvão Teles, Soares da Silva and Associates” - was hired to present the request with those demands, after the Public Prosecutor's Office issued the statement declaring the case shelved, on July 21, 2008.

Privacy rights in danger

They justified the request, presented on July 23, 2008, because most of the information was sent to PJ by informal channels, not following the formal procedures of “Letters of Request”, and argued that making public such information as personal data could collide with privacy rights.

There was also the risk of jeopardizing future British police investigations, because some information was related with techniques and strategies used by British police. Advise from National Policing Improvement Agency (NPIA) was quoted as an example. Also, shared intelligence reports should not be made public, for obvious reasons, said the lawyers representing those organizations.

The request pointed also to large amount of data sent by Crimestoppers. As the protection of the identity of sources of information is basic, for the work of Crimestoppers, the lawyers argued that not keeping it secret would be a breach of the rules of cooperation defined between authorities and those sources.

Future cooperation at risk

The formal request emphasized that not respecting these limits, when access to files was given, could seriously undermine all future cooperation with Portuguese Judicial bodies. It's even argued that the referred British institutions and police forces would never have sent that information to PJ, if they had any doubts about the commitment of Portuguese authorities to keep it confidential.

Resuming the request, the lawyers asked for all information sent without a “Letter of Request” to be kept secret or, if Portuguese authorities didn't accept this demand, to reduce it just to personal data concerning suspected and registered sexual offenders and all information sent by Crimestoppers. They also requested a CD copy of all investigation files, in order to evaluate the specific information sent by the British police forces, judicial bodies and other institutions. A final demand was to suspend all access to the investigation files, until the request was decided.

Duarte Levy and Paulo Reis