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Phone hack obsession obscures NotW privacy scandal

What about illegal access to tax, bank, police records?

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Again this has focused on mobile phone records. What's been ignored is that a far greater variety of illegal activities were also allegedly in play, as described by The Guardian.

In suppressing Taylor's legal action, News Group buried not only the Scotland Yard evidence but also paperwork that had been seized by the Information Commission from a Hampshire private investigator, Steve Whittamore, who had been running a network of sources who specialised in the illegal extraction of information from police computers, British Telecom, the DVLA, Inland Revenue and others. Whittamore subsequently pleaded guilty to criminal offences, although the newspapers who hired him were never prosecuted.

Goodman and Mulcaire's action were a violation of UK wiretapping law, specifically the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, but offences were also made in accessing police databases and tax records by the NotW, The Guardian alleges.

Working on instructions from the News of the World, Whittamore and his network also conned the criminal records database of the police, which is a specific criminal offence; the Inland Revenue, also a specific criminal offence; a cab company used by Ken Livingstone; a Paris hotel used by Jason Donovan; the actors union, Equity, for the addresses of actors; Granada TV, for information on a Coronation Street actor; and on numerous occasions the DVLA for the home details of people whose car numbers they had spotted. The News of the World has insisted that its journalists use subterfuge only when justified in the public interest.

Almost nobody, except for some of the original stories in The Guardian, picked up on the allegation about criminal access to police and tax authority computers for no higher purpose than to investigate celebrity gossip*.

Still less has been said about the access to celebrity bank statements.

It's as if the efforts of the Major Crime Unit in The Wire boiled down to Lester Freamon's wiretaps and every other investigative technique used by the unit was completely disregarded or ignored.

Perhaps the obsession with unlawful wiretaps reflects a need to simplify a complex set of accusations. Or perhaps it reflects a perception that private conversations are somehow more sacrosanct in British society, which accepts the high concentration of privacy-invasive CCTV cameras, and willingly exchanges minor discounts for the privilege of having store purchases data mined by supermarkets. ®

Bootnote

* The main revelation from Goodwin's fishing expedition, and his ultimate undoing, lest we forget, was that he discovered that Prince William had injured his knee. It's hardly uncovering wrong-doing in high-office or corruption in sport.

As it stands, the re-opened scandal may well result in the introduction of tighter privacy laws to protect UK celebrities, who already enjoy the protection of laws on defamation than are among the toughest in the world.

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