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September 2020
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GPSJ has raised concerns around a possible security risk arising from the sale of unauthorised press cards on EBay that look very similar to the official UK Press passes used to identify professional journalists in various work situations.

These unauthorised press passes are being offering for sale on EBay for anyone to purchase regardless of any journalistic or media experience. By simply sending off their details and a photograph they can receive an official looking press pass complete with hologram and membership number. The colour and layout are almost identical to the real approved passes.

There is only one officially recognised press pass in the UK and is approved by the UK Press Card Authority, a number of gatekeepers then issue the passes to eligible people working in the media, the holder of the card is also verified by New Scotland Yard and is given a password to enable their identity to be checked by anyone needing to do so. It is also recognised by ACPO the Association of Chief Police Officers.

Although it is not a legal requirement for any journalist to carry a press pass the various gatekeepers who issue them have spent a long time organising the scheme and designing the cards to ensure that holders are recognised as bona fide reporters and media workers.

The card is recognised by ACPO and all police forces are made aware of what a genuine pass looks like and that anyone carrying one should be given access and accommodated where possible to report freely from incidents and situations where normal members of the public would be excluded.

The sale of unauthorised passes is obviously a serious security issue especially when anyone carrying these similar looking cards could be allowed into sensitive buildings and allowed access to VIP’s including royalty and government ministers. Although most police and press officers are trained to recognise the approved card, a quick glance at these similar ones could allow anyone, including terrorists, to gain access to a wide range of potential targets in certain situations.

Journalists who show a valid press card can normally gain full access onto Downing Street and into Westminster. Although security checks, including a body search and x-ray of baggage are carried out, there is still the potential risk of a rogue card holder being given access and then disrupting a meeting. Or for a potential terrorist organisation to do a close up pre attack reconnaissance mission.

These are just a few potential dangers from people carrying bogus press cards that have no connection with the media and who wish to cause disruption and possibly worse in security sensitive areas.

We contacted the seller of these passes and he told us he was doing nothing wrong and a press card did not entitle anyone to get into any meeting or interview, we told him they looked very similar to the only UK authorised card and this was also in his description.

We contacted the UK Press Card Authority to alert them to these cards, they then tried to purchase one of these cards of EBay but had their money refunded and the cards were then removed from the site. A spokesperson for the UKPCA said they thought these cards were in breach of their copyright and should be removed. Some journalists we spoke to also reported the matter through EBay’s complaints procedure as a potential copyright infringement.

Dominic Cooper of the Chartered Institute of Journalist said, “Members of the public should be aware that the defacto Press accreditation for genuine journalists in the UK is the National Press Card. This card, issued by the UK Press Card Authority, carries the support of the journalistic industry and the authorities in the UK.

“The guidelines for the issue of this card are strict and there is a method by which a card carrying journalist may be reported for inappropriate use of the card or unacceptable behaviour. For these reasons it is endorsed by the Association of Chief Police Officers.

“From time to time there become available so-called press cards, or press passes, which are offered to anybody who cares to apply. Such cards are sold only for profit, and there are no checks made on the individual who applies. As such they have no standing and anybody who purchases a card in this way should not be surprised if they find their money has been wasted.”

John Toner of the National Union of Journalists said he was also concerned about this matter.

“These cards are not official press cards and anyone in doubt of the validity of a press card should check the back and look for the card verification number, ” he told GPSJ.

“If there is no number then the card is not valid and we spend a lot of time educating people like the police on these matters.”

The Home Office refused to comment and said it was a matter for the card issuers and checks at sensitive buildings should be carried out by the police and security services.

The fact is that a number of these unauthorised cards have already been sold on EBay and possibly through other outlets, the potential risk now is that one of these could have found its way into the hands of a terrorist, political activist or somebody intent on making a statement in a very public way with an attack or stunt against a high profile target. It is to be hoped that the police and other agencies are checking press cards properly and looking for the security features built into the genuine ones.

Legal expert Cleland Thom, director of CTJT, said: “These cards are worthless. But they’re potentially dangerous, not just for security. If people used them to gain some kind of financial advantage, they could be arrested for fraud. Buyers ‘beware.’

A spokeswoman for ACPO said, Any type of forged or fake identity cards is always a concern, however it should be understood that access to sensitive or high risk areas does not rely alone on the production of an ID card like this. Police and security services will seek to make addition checks when and where necessary. If anyone is offered these cards for purchase they are urged to report it to the UK Press Card Authority who in turn should report it to the police.

Clearly there are many possibilities for breaches of security with people holding these cards who are not authorised. It is to be hoped that the authorities take particular care in checking the authenticity of press cards in the future and if in doubt contact New Scotland Yard to verify the holder is genuine.

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