Phone Hacking

The phone hacking scandal will run and run but readers may be interested to know that the issue was highlighted five years ago by the Information Commissioner in his Report, ‘What Price Privacy?’ Note that in ONE investigation alone, the ICO uncovered 305 NAMED journalists who had obtained personal data unlawfully. The House of Commons Select Committee has known about this issue since 2003. The Committee has had the ICO’s Report since 2006. The Police were given a dossier.

So why was nothing done?

Could it be that there were just too many people with too much to lose? Who now will investigate this Committee for failing to deal with the issue? The Metropolitan Commissioner and his Assistant have resigned and failed to investigate. Will there be a proper investigation now? Who in the Labour Government, which was in power at the time, will take responsibility?

We know that the media, politicians and police have all been keen to ‘kick this into the long grass’, but could there be other institutions involved such as the Judiciary? Just how many people were involved? We suggest that nothing was done because nobody wanted to blow the whistle on this web of lies, deceit and illegal activity.

Extract from the Information Commissioner’s Report, ‘What Price Privacy?’

(The full Report appears on the Web Site of the Information Commissioner)

“Much more illegal activity lies hidden under the surface. Investigations by the ICO and the police have uncovered evidence of a widespread and organised undercover market in confidential personal information. Such evidence forms the core of this report, providing details about how the unlawful trade in personal information operates: who the buyers are, what information they are seeking, how that information is obtained for them, and how much it costs. Among the ‘buyers’ are many journalists looking for a story. In one major case investigated by the ICO, the evidence included records of information supplied to 305 named journalists working for a range of newspapers. Other cases have involved finance companies and local authorities wishing to trace debtors; estranged couples seeking details of their partner’s whereabouts or finances; and criminals intent on fraud or witness or juror intimidation.

The personal information they are seeking may include someone’s current address, details of car ownership, an ex-directory telephone number or records of calls made, bank account details or intimate health records. Disclosure of even apparently innocuous personal information – such as an address – can be highly damaging in some circumstances, and in virtually all cases individuals experience distress when their privacy is breached without their consent. The ‘suppliers’ almost invariably work within the private investigation industry: private investigators, tracing agents, and their operatives, often working loosely in chains that may include several intermediaries between ultimate customer and the person who actually obtains the information.

The ICO is not the only body to keep a watching eye on the encroachment of individual privacy. Early in 2003, the House of Commons Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport conducted an investigation into privacy and media intrusion. Like the Information Commissioner in this report, the Committee was particularly concerned to focus on people who are ‘not generally in public life’.

Among those giving evidence was Sun editor, Rebekah Wade (now Brooks - DPS), who claimed that self-regulation under the guidance of the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) had changed the culture in Fleet Street and ‘in every single newsroom in the land’. When asked whether she or her newspaper ever used private detectives, bugged people, paid the police or others for information they should not legally have, she said that subterfuge was only ever used in the public interest.

Pressed again by Committee member, Chris Bryant MP, on whether she ever paid the police for information, she replied, ‘We have paid the police for information in the past.’ Further probing about whether she would continue to pay the police in future was answered in her stead by her colleague, Andrew Coulson, who declared that ‘We operate within the [PCC’s] code and within the law and if there is a clear public interest then we will’.”

So, there we have it, phone hacking and paying the police for information has been known about and admitted to for five years. We wonder what Andy Coulson meant by, “in the public interest”. Given that he is a journalist, then we suspect that he means if the public might be interested in it, not whether it is in the public interest - in other words – if it sells papers.