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Broadcaster Sky News is being investigated by Ofcom over its admission that it hacked into emails for a story in 2008. "Ofcom is investigating the fairness and privacy issues raised by Sky News' statement that it had accessed without prior authorisation private email accounts during the course of its news investigations," the …

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Alert

Terrible.

I'm disgusted by Sky's antics and have left them a message in my inbox to let them know!

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Happy

Who watches the watchmen?

Time for Murdoch to take his final bow.

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Re: Who watches the watchmen?

Hes too busy to retire... writing OFCOMs statement about how they investigated and found nothing to warrant action... warrant.. now theres a word fast falling out of common usage in police work..

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Anonymous Coward

It is an interesting one

In this particular case they can (theoretically) argue public benefit. There is a theoretical difference between:

A) hacking celebutards and maintaining the conditioning of the Hello/OK/N.O.W audience for celebutard private life bits which has no public benefit whatsoever.

B) investigative journalism which is trying to uncover criminal activity. There is some theoretical public benefit here.

In the general case, a newspaper can argue the defense of public interest (case B). Time and again, journalists have received leniency for crimes against privacy, etc committed while pursuing something along the lines of B. That is how western civilization works and it is one of the functions of the press as a watchdog to keep the powers of the day from rigging the system.

The problem here is that this is not "case B". Sun started their "investigation" after the arrests and during the trial so instead of "investigative" journalism it was aiming once again at "lurid details with no relation to the news item" journalism in which they specialize. The canoe man was simply the "celebutard du jour" and Sun was looking for lurid bits like for example the affair he was having which caused the break-up of the fraud in the first place.

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Re: "they can (theoretically) argue public benefit"

Public benefit does *not* allow them to break the law in order to (possibly) find some putative evidence of other wrong-doing.

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Anonymous Coward

WTF?

The question for Ofcom will be its interpretation of Rule 8.1, which states that "any infringement of privacy in programmes... must be warranted".

I would have thought that the actions taken by Sky are a matter for the police not Ofcom; the Computer Misuse Act 1990 makes "Unauthorised access to computer material." a criminal offense.

Sky might argue that they broke the law to help catch a criminal, but what they did wouldn't even be legal for the police (or "Sky Security" as the Met are to be re-branded) without a warrant.

What would be the case to answer if they'd not found anything incriminating?

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Big Brother

Re: WTF?

RE: "Sky Security" I was just thinking to myself how long it would be until News International set up a security services division, what with the wholesale sell off of the police service.

It seems like an ideal setup - NI 'right size' the boys in blue, and for their troubles, they can equip them with camera's and tablet computers to allow for live reporting of the trouble and strife as they occur. Of course, they'll have to do away with proper procedure and due-course because live streams of community spy officers filling in paperwork doesn't get the viewing figures up. So, the CSO's will be left to decide what is right and what is wrong and what looks really good for the viewing figures.

El Reg, where is the Murdock icon?

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Anonymous Coward

Not a fit and proper person...

If Murdoch and his cronies had reason to believe that something dodgy was happening then they pass those suspicions to their plentiful friends at the top of the Met, who can apply for the appropriate warrant that permits interception of communications. That's how it works in the real world.

There is NO circumstance in which private enterprise invasion of e-mail accounts (or phone tapping, or whatever) is permissible. When it is done on behalf of a business then the Directors of the business are responsible.

Murdochs: Go to jail, Go directly to jail, do not pass Go, do not collect £200 million.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Not a fit and proper person...

I disagree - I heard an interview with one of the Watergate reporters on this subject and he was pretty open about the fact that they obtained credit card information by deception (and other things) in order to get the story.

The Watergate scandal clearly had a public interest defence, title tattle it was not. I would argue that this particular case does not have a public interest defence tough.

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Anonymous Coward

It's still Illegal

irrespective of whether or not it's in the Public Interest or indeed if the Public are interested in it (read: increasing the newspapers' circulations).

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Anonymous Coward

Re: It's still Illegal

There's two breaches in play here. The first is the breach of OfCom's code of conduct, which does have a public interest defence and the second is the breach of the law. There is no public interest defence for phone or email hacking. None. Keir Starmer is essentially going to have to press charges against someone for this.

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AC 12:21

I see where you are coming from. When I heard about the expenses scandal my first thought was 'the Official Secrets Act has been breached, how terribly illegal!'. I'm glad to see someone else shares my enlightened viewpoint.

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Devil

The Two faces of journalism

So Sky are contending in effect that a criminal act is ok in order to reveal a criminal act?

At last the UK is a world leader in something.. even if it is only double standards.

I'm sure this will be swept below the carpet as is so much in the UK these days

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Re: The Two faces of journalism

In some cases, yes, I would contend that a lesser criminal act is perfectly valid if it reveals a greater criminal act. The world isn't simple.

I do not know the details, but the expenses scandal was only revealed due to criminal leaks to the Telegraph. I can't get my knickers in a twist about what Sky News did.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: The Two faces of journalism

"I would contend that a lesser criminal act is perfectly valid if it reveals a greater criminal act"

So, with your reasoning, we should allow police to use torture to get evidence of "greater criminal acts" like murder?

You can talk yourself into a place you wouldn't like to live with this sort of "you only have rights if we can't find something on you" mentality.

I don't like to see crimes going undetected and unpunished, but if the alternative is to end up with vigilante justice from News International and uncontrolled state "evidence gathering", I'd rather have no-one put in prison; we might as well all be inside if it comes to that.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: The Two faces of journalism

"the expenses scandal was only revealed due to criminal leaks to the Telegraph"

If you check the facts, it was going to come out anyway in July 2009, legally, after a FOI request and court case had decided to publish the full expenses. The Telegraph just published leaked information early to beat the other scandal rags to the punch.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_Kingdom_parliamentary_expenses_scandal

So not really the justification it first seems.

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Boffin

Re: The Two faces of journalism

There are critical differences between a leak and a hack.

Besides the expenses leak was not just in the public interest, it was in the public's right to know - being the footer of the bills.

Heather Brooke - the original FOI submitter and journalist at the center has written a superb book covering the travesty of how successive UK governments have tried to keep the public in the dark - only to be completely blindsided by the emergence of the internet and FOI laws.

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"claiming that the intrusion had been justified as it was "in the public interest" and that the hacking had led to criminal charges being brought."

Since when has this been the job of news reporters? Breaking into someone's personal communications in search of a story is never justified. In fact, isn't it illegal to prosecute someone based on evidence obtained illegally?

If someone is tortured into giving up evidence then that evidence is inadmissible in court so surely information stolen would be as well.

Either way, this is yet another example of the rotten Murdoch empire ignoring the law in their search for more money. It's about time he was held accountable for the actions of his minions.

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If Sky tortured information out of people, that would not be justified.

If Sky hack someone's e-mail and it reveals evidence of criminality - then I'm okay with that.

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Anonymous Coward

So....

... what about the alleged paedophile? No charges brought - therefore Sky cannot use their "OK to commit a crime to catch a criminal" mantra.

How would you feel about Sky hacking your email and your phone just because there were vague allegations of a criminal act being made against you....

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Anonymous Coward

@ Anonymous Coward 101

And if they ack someone's e-mail and it reveals NO evidence of criminality, what then?

You're obviously an "ends justify the means" type; maybe you've done something illegal at some point and we should get someone to check your private data?

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the other hacking case

Still more interested in the other email hack they admitted to, that of some guy the Sun suspected of paedophile. He apparently wasn't since no action was taken and no story was run, which means they just hacked some guy for no reason at all.

That's quite a big deal and I don't see how "public interest" could possibly apply.

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FAIL

Unfortunately, the UK courts are now in a bind

It is extremely rare for UK courts (i.e. the judge overseeing a case) to refuse to admit unlawfully or illegally obtained evidence. (Unlike the US which takes the 4th amendment very seriously, and will exclude evidence obtained unlawfully ... and evidence derived from such - look up "fruit of the poison tree").

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Re: Unfortunately, the UK courts are now in a bind

unlawfully or illegally obtained evidence... is yet evidence. If the evidence exists why shouldn't it be used. The law isn't supposed to be a competition between users, its supposed to find out the truth. If illegally obtained evidence helps to find out the truth that's fine by me. Would it be OK if an innocent man went to gaol because illegally obtained evidence that proved his innocence was refused?

On the other hand the person who broke the law to get the evidence in question should still face the law.

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Mushroom

Re: Unfortunately, the UK courts are now in a bind

The problem with *your* stance is that it eventually gets morphed into "the end justifies the means".

Presumably, you'd be happy for people to be tortured to get at the truth ? Or are you not willing to go that far ? If so, where's your line.

Mine is where the law is.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: JimC

> Would it be OK if an innocent man went to gaol because illegally obtained evidence that proved his innocence was refused?

The rule regarding illegally obtained evidence only applies to the state. The state can use evidence that was obtained illegally by others, but can not use evidence it obtained illegally. The defence can also use evidence the state obtained illegally.

If journalists are allowed to break the law and illegally search for evidence then it is only a matter of time before an unscrupulous Police Officer gets a tame journalist to perform illegal searches for them.

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FAIL

Re: JimC

... which is why US courts are *very* protective of the 4th amendment.

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Re: Unfortunately, the UK courts are now in a bind

Ultimately the end can justify the means. Look at how many Germans we killed to stop Hitler. In real life its a question of least worst on balance. Turn it around... Can the means justify the ends?

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FAIL

Public Interest...

One thing I've been getting out of the Levenson enquiry is that the phtrase public interest needs to be ditched... We need a phrase that can't be interpreted as "anything that will sell more newspapers"

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Childcatcher

Re: Public Interest...

How old is the 'Public interest' clause anyway? Presumably it predates the era where significant amounts of your personal correspondence can be accessed from anywhere in the world with the right credentials? Would it have covered going through postal mail back in the olden days?

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Linux

Up shit creek without a paddle...

Nothing to add.

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Stop

It ain't a black and white world

Journo's (good ones anyway) have to make judgement calls just like the rest of us and they also have to recognise that there can be a downside to getting it wrong. Journalists have often broken the law in order to reveal more serious criminal acts. Defiance of courts to name sources, publishing material known to be leaked from government departments etc.

Most courts would accept that it is in the public interest to breach an individual's privacy in order to detect and punish a more serious crime - in fact controlled invasion of privacy is a key part of the whole criminal justice system. Murdoch has probably done more damage to proper journalism than anyone else with his arbitrary extension of "public interest" to mean anything he wants to print - it is selfish actions like his that end us up with tyrannical absolute liability laws replacing proper consideration of actions, intent and outcome.

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Stop

As Newscorp's hacking of the private communications of thousands of innocents has shown, the Emails and all other private correspondence of Rupert Murdoch would be vastly more in the "public interest" to disclose then canoe man's. So by their own logic, why is Newscorp not producing those communications? Murdoch is running a protection racket. You better play nice and give him the information he demands, or you will be dealt with. Just don't turn the spotlight on Newscorp and Murdoch.

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Stop

I spoke too soon

Murdoch is even illegally going after the people who are merely complaining about his phone hacking. See here:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2012/apr/23/colin-myler-news-of-the-world-scrutiny

So I again ask, under Newscorps own logic, Murdoch must immediately release his private correspondence as a matter of "public interest." How can it be that Murdoch's and Newscorp's far reaching crimes are not of public interest, but Canoe man somehow is?

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