The phone operator Vodafone has handed over the mobile phone records of more than 1,700 News UK staff, including many journalists, to the Metropolitan Police, The Times newspaper reports. The news emerged as the British government announced it was preparing new counter-terrorism legislation giving the police new powers of investigation.

The worrying report, published in The Times two days ago, said Vodafone UK in March this year inadvertently sent the police details of calls made by 1,757 News UK staff members between 2005 and 2007. News UK is the parent company of The TimesThe Sunday Times and The Sun.

Vodafone blamed “human error” for the massive data transfer. In October last year, the police were investigating allegations of corrupt payments to officials made by journalists working for News International, which was later renamed News UK after the News of the World phone hacking scandal. Using the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, they asked Vodafone to provide the phone records of one journalist.

Vodafone provided much more than this to the officers running the investigation, codenamed Operation Elveden. It was a serious mistake and it could have been rectified if the police had deleted the data immediately and notified the operator and the news group.

However, Scotland Yard waited three months before telling Vodafone and News UK about the mistake. During that time, the data, which could have seriously compromised the confidentiality of many journalists’ sources, remained available to the police.

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