Anyone outraged that News of the Screws journalists have been “hacking” in to mobile ‘phones needs to get a grip on reality. They’re investigative tabloid journalists; what do you expect them to be doing?
To call it “hacking” is grossly overstating the case anyway – what they did required no technical knowledge other that that available in any playground in the country. All you need to do to retrieve people’s voice mail messages is dial their number, and when you get through to voice mail, enter the PIN. Most people leave the PIN as the system default.
You might argue that this is a gross breach of privacy and so forth. But it’s no more so than camping out on someone’s doorstep to see who goes in and out, following them, or tricking them into telling you something they wouldn’t if they knew your were a journalist.
New Labour was very keen to suppress the traditional liberties of the population in general and passed various dodgy laws to protect the lives of the guilty from prying journalists. In 2000, listening to other people’s voice mail was made a specific offence. “And quite right too!”. Wrong! It’s just another example of those in power making it difficult for us to check up on what they’re doing. We have (or had) a free press with a tradition of snooping on politicians, criminals and anyone else they wanted to using whatever means, as long as it was “In the public interest”.
Journalists are also out to sell papers, so the “public interest” defence is often strained to its limit, or broken. However, it should remain as a defence in a court of law and people should be able to argue their case there. It should be all about intent. But New Labour had other ideas.
People are uneasy about voice mail because it’s technological, so lets look at another example.
Suppose a journalist was camped outside someone’s house, noting down who came in and out. Another invasion of privacy, but right or wrong?
Well that depends – if it’s some innocent person then the journalist will probably end up throwing the notes away, so no harm done. If someone uses information collected in this way in the pursuance of a crime (e.g. Blackmail), that’s another matter, but journalists don’t do that.
Now supposing the journalist is investigating a suspected terrorist, and checking up to see who they’re associating with – or even a politician associating with a known crook. Clearly this information in the public interest.
It’s all about intent.
You could argue that investigations of this nature shouldn’t be carried out by private individuals but should be left to the security forces. That argument doesn’t bear scrutiny for more than a couple of seconds. The public needs the right to snoop as well as the government agents – anything else is known as a ‘police state’
As to the current difficulties – anyone who knows anything about the press will tell you that these and many other tricks are employed as a matter of course, although journalists won’t make a big noise about using them. It’s conceivable that an editor like Andy Coulson would neither know nor care exactly what his investigation teams were doing to come up with the information; you don’t ask. It’s also inconceivable that only the hacks on the News of the World had thought of it. Sources need protection.
It’s clearly a political stunt by old new Labour. Could they be upset that the press, including Mr Coulson’s old rag, turned against them? They used to be friends with the News of the World. At the time of the original scandal, it appears that the first politician to call Andy Coulson to commiserate with him about having to resign was none other than Gordon Brown. Apparently he went on to suggest that someone with his talent would soon find another job where he could make himself useful. (Source: Nick Clegg at today’s PMQs).