back to article NOTW hack-hackage: Inside the personal data press mess

In the middle of the Major years (back in the 1990s), David Mellor, then a Cabinet minister (whose fascination for female toes was discussed by the tabloids, in the "public interest" of course) famously said that the press were drinking at "the last chance saloon". Fifteen years of hard drinking later, the recent events into …


This topic is closed for new posts.
  1. Bernard M. Orwell

    Nail on the Head.

    "It has dawned on the government that embracing legislation which could imprison journalists has very little to commend it when a general election is looming."

    In a nutshell you've gone the whole thing summed up neatly here; It doesn't matter to the politicos what's *right* it only matters that they *win*.

    In essence that is where British politics falls over entirely.

    1. Loyal Commenter Silver badge


      Now seems like a good time for the Home Secretary (I think that this is the minister in question who would have to enact this?) to gain some political points by laying the order before Parliament. Just because Labour were too spineless to do this when it didn;t suit them, doesn't mean that the ConDems won't seize the political opportunity. The public want something done about this scandal, and this seems very much like low-hanging political fruit, as it were. The smart money would be on hearing something about this in parliament any day now.

    2. jonathanb Silver badge

      Not quite

      The problem the MPs had wasn't so much that they win, more that they didn't want to be seen to be doing something that could prevent a future expenses scandal from coming to light.

      Getting the law right is difficult. Clearly we want the press to be able to expose future expenses scandals and similar, even if they have to resort to slightly underhand means to do so. That is in the public interest. Hacking into a murdered girl's phone to make her parents think she is still alive is clearly not in the public interest and should be punished severely. How do you draw the line? How do you define this in legislation? It isn't that easy.

    3. nyelvmark


      This is one of the shortcomings of democracy. It happens everywhere. Every government tries to increase spending in an election year, for example. I've yet to hear of a good alternative to democracy, though.

      Except, of course, for the establishment of a world empire with myself as emperor, but that's only for one special case of 'good'.

  2. Anonymous Coward

    You call that a bite

    I hate to be blunt, but can we have the German privacy laws please. Failing that French will do.

    1. TeeCee Gold badge

      Get knotted.

      This is nothing to do with privacy law and everything to do with data protection.

      Privacy laws are the anathema of Free Speech and should be regarded as the thin end of the wedge.

      Put it this way. Under both the DE and FR[1] systems it would have probably have been illegal to break the MP's expenses scandal, not because of how the information was obtained, but because publishing details of an MP's expenses would be an intrusion into their private affairs.

      [1] Certainly FR. They got away with a system of well-stuffed plain brown envelopes for "office expenses" for years because of this.

  3. Anonymous Coward


    What about Rupert, then? Does he stand culpable? Or he's gotten away thsi time, again (after dispatching Vince Cabel).

    Does his clout enhance, now?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Thumb Down

      Rubert, culpable....

      Only when you exclude every sleaze bag politican, spineless copper and courrupt official.

      So in otherwords, no.

      Unfiortunatly people are so thick, the will just move to another one of his "news"papers and belive the same horseshit that they have rammed down their throats.

  4. Whitter

    The elephant in the room.

    Public data hacking: serious, but not earth shattering.

    Police corruption: urgent.

    The overt lack of police investigation of complaints prior to the current shirt-storm is the most important thing: whether those payments resulted in blackmail or "friendly" help from the rozzer, any police officer who took money or aided other officers who did, need jail time.

    1. L.B

      Problem of MET investigating MET again.

      While the MET are always allowed to investigate the MET they will never be brought to justice.

      Even using regional Police to investigate others would help, at least they would not be drinking buddies with the crooked cops being looked into.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Internal friction

        At least the MET investigates the MET.

        There's a reason, in the USA, police investigators are called the "rat squad". Point is you always have good/bad people in any organisation.

  5. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Thumb Up

    The relevant minister could enable that criminal offense fairly quickly

    *if* they chose to.

    At the moment it's got the *appearance* of a major sanction but is actually toothless.

    Good point about former Labor MP's and ministers having the chance to fix this and backing down as too spineless. Something of a permanent problem whenever someone whispers the words "Rupert wouldn't like that" in their collective pinnae.

    Thumbs up for the article, not the behavior involved by both journalists and politicians.

    1. RichyS
      Thumb Down

      Don't forget

      And the police.

      <--- Thumbs down to balance things out!

  6. Pete 2 Silver badge

    A free press?

    > we need a free press, but not this free perhaps.

    Would this mean free for a foreign owner to call up an editor and say "I want you to run this story on the front page"

    Maybe the best way to ensure journalistic freedom, reign in some of the more disgraceful abuses of power and inject a bit of diversity into the british media (not just newspapers) is to limit the number of newspapers or TV stations a single person may have a controlling interest in to ONE. No groups, "media empires", syndicates or publishing houses. One owner, one single paper or TV channel, but not both.

    It wouldn't stop them promoting their own self interested personal agenda, but it would put a fundamental limit on how far that influence (or political pressure) would reach.

    1. John Angelico
      Thumb Down

      The problem isn't ownership

      but the mindset of the so-called "profession of journalism" around all the various media.

      That mindset/world-view/philosophical framework is predominantly anti-conservative, anti-freedom and pro-totalitarian/centralism as compared to the population at large (qv. voters).

    2. Homard

      Free Speech

      In this country we have a right to free speech. Many people fought and died for us to have this privilege.

      The press have this right too.

      If that right is used correctly, it protects us all (scandal, corruption and so on).

      What the press has done is to interfere with a murder investigation, and invade the right to free speech by intercepting private communication.

      Plod are supposed to be honest. Some clearly haven't been.

      The press need reigning in. Plod need investigating. We clearly have some corrupt journalists and plod in this.

      HEADS MUST ROLL. I am disgusted.

      Only icon is FAIL for the current system.

      1. Anonymous Coward

        Lame argument

        "Many people fought and died for us to have this privilege."

        Sure, and that's why we have uncontrolled immigation, a general notion that all white people are "racist", an Equality Act 2010 that requires incompatible cultural behaviour by ethnic minorities to be protected on the basis that they are different, and free roaming Germans on the streets of London.

        To be honest I think that Britain does not respect those who fought and died for the country. If you had transported a soldier from WW2 to 2011 London he would wonder what the hell happened.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    At last, some sense

    The proposed solution looks pretty good to me.

    There's more than a few cases in the current furore where the newspapers could be liable for criminal offences which are nothing to do with privacy or data protection. The hacking of Milly Dowler's voicemail would appear to be the destruction of evidence pertinent to a criminal investigation. I think it's possible to draw a distinction between that, and whatever press snooping we can tolerate.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Nothing will be done.

    Even the police corruption will be stymied.

    The govs rating in the polls ain't too good and they haven't had time to rig the constituencies yet.

    I foresee a long investigation.

    As for labour not having the necessary cojones: there was an election coming, and Rupert may have come-over again.

    Next election the cons may have a problem if they disallow the buyout of BsykB, So I'm guessing it will go through. And that they'll be stabbed in the back afterwards.

    The main problem being that the press, and subsequently every large company and very powerful person, have the politicians bent over a table, all they need is the vaseline. And they know it.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      You really think

      You really think big media and big company care enough about their politico lackeys to use lubricant?

  9. SteveBalmer

    Further Reading

    I think the whole issue is disappointing, but not surprising. Any spotty bored teenager could realise how simple it is to 'hack' most voicemail systems out there, and there are plenty of Journalists that I would not even want to share an elevator with. The surprising thing about the whole issue is that it hasn't been swept under the rug yet.

    Beer because it's after 12

    1. Anonymous Coward


      "and there are plenty of Journalists that I would not even want to share an elevator with"

      ...lest you end up with coke planted on your person or an axe in the back of the head. Oh no, that was a "PI" not a journo on the payroll. :-P

      Makes the pigs at the trough depiction from the era of Spitting Image seem quite rose tinted.

    2. David Beck

      Jonathan Creek

      In the first JC episode (The Wrestlers Tomb) there is a scene where Maddy sits at her desk entering digits on the phone keypad. Asked by her boyfriend (amazingly played by Alistair McGowan, you never know who is going to pop up) what she is doing, she replies with the model of the BT answering machine she is "hacking", two digit "pin", "ah there it is, 36", and proceeds to listen to the messages.

      Since this was originally broadcast in 1997 we can assume it was common practice at that time for journalist to hack "voicemail". Looks to me like the only change is that the length of the unchanged PIN is now 4 digits (0000) instead of 2 (00).

      So will we go back and get all 14 years worth of offences?

  10. Busby
    Big Brother

    Never happen in a million years!

    Highly unlikely but I would like to see the goverment go after them for all NOTW revenue for any years it can be proven stories were obtained via illegal methods. The only way this will stop is if they have to pay an obscene fine and ideally a few Newscorp directors are invited to spend time at her majestys pleasure.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The law seems already well placed, if needed

    Some guys have already gone to prison so there are offenses already on statute - as every existing offense also has complimentary "conspiracy to.." and "incitement to.." offenses it seems quite clear cut: Yer PI illegally obtains phone info and goes to pokey --> the people who put them up to it / were involved in planning it go down for incitement & conspiracy

    Not to mention the obvious crimes that would be committed if someone bribed the police to obtain information, or if a rozzer accessed info they had no right to and even more importantly sold that on, and I am pretty sure a jury would happily convict anyone who deleted voicemails of a missing teenage girl (who then turned out to have have been murdered) for perverting the course of justice at the very least.

    I know we are all crying out at how terrible things are: the press are bastards and need to be reined in - rich famous people are abusing super injunctions and must be stopped - Murdoch is too powerful and something must be done etc.

    But the bottom line is this: In the UK, the situation with the press is one we appear to want, and it is certainly the one we deserve.

  12. Jamie Kitson


    Think you've missed a "not" out towards the end of this paragraph:

    Lord Phillips (para 127 and 128 of Naomi Campbell*) has made an interpretation of section 32 which effectively ignores this agreement which said the exemption only applied prior to publication, to one that continues after the time of publication.

    1. Steven Knox

      Not Not

      The sentence is simply a mess. Intended reading (I presume) is:

      Lord Phillips (para 127 and 128 of Naomi Campbell*) has made an interpretation of section 32 which effectively ignores this agreement (which said the exemption only applied prior to publication), to one that continues after the time of publication.

      Of course, this means that "to one" references a noun which is in an aside ("the exemption"), which is messy if not wrong, and there is no verb for "to" to modify.


      Lord Phillips (para 127 and 128 of Naomi Campbell*) has made an interpretation of section 32 which holds that the exemption continues after the time of publication, effectively ignoring the aforementioned agreement .

      Simpler, shorter, and uses "aforementioned": a word which is definitely not used enough nowadays.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    A better solution...

    Round up the journos and bent policemen involved, and publicly shoot them.

    Then intercept their families voicemail messages to make gripping articles about the event.

  14. Bernard M. Orwell

    Private vs Public - The Thin End of the Wedge.

    I think I see a clear path ahead here, tell me if I'm wrong...

    The police are public servants, paid for by taxpayers and accountable in the public view. Therefore their actions are noted and investigated in the public interest and for purposes of clarity. In theory, they should welcome this level of scrutiny as an opportunity to demonstrate how much we can rely on their sterling standards. I find it disturbing that, conversely, they go to some lengths to ensure that they are accountable to no one but themselves and use weasal-worded language to avoid scrutiny at every turn.

    Same goes for MPs and Ministers along with their expenses, but only inasmuch as concerns their public dealings and accountability. I don't care if they like a bit of S&M at the weekends; if they once smoked a joint, if they own two jaguars or like duckhouses. I'm only concerned if taxpayers are footing (ahem) the bill, which makes it an issue of public interest.

    Milly Dowler's parents? Not public servants, not accountable to us as they are our peers, and whilst their tale might be (morbidly) interesting to the public it is not automatically the case that their lives are therefore to be held as a matter of public scrutiny.

    I dare say the same goes for so-called celebrities. You might be good at football or a fashion icon and some people might find that interesting, but that does not give us, as a society, carte-blanche to deconstruct your lives in minute detail.

    By extension, that same right is not accorded to the newspapers, even if they do act as self-appointed guardians of our 'right to know'.

  15. Anonymous Coward

    Several points of order

    1. It's the Press Complaints Commission, not the Press Commission.

    2. The Press Complains Commission's Editors' Code of Practice is only practically applicable to newspapers and magazines subscribing to the PCC. The Northern & Shell group of companies for example has withdrawn support for the PCC and thus no complaints made about articles in any of their publications can be mediated by the PCC. You can see the list of titles owned by Northern & Shell here: - This is not to say that the PCC is not trying to induce Northern & Shell to return to the fold though...

    3. If the PCC ECP were to become statutory, the press would, by definition, no longer be a 'free press'. Why? The definition of a 'free press' is that it is a press free of government interference, and a government mandating a code of practice applicable to the press is, by definition, interfering. No other country worldwide with a 'free press' has put in place such a statutory code. Ask any journalistic organisation (not necessarily a union) and they will likely tell you the same. This is why the newspaper organisations are required to fund the PCC, not the government.

    4. Just because a distinct minority of the News International group of newspapers have plumbed new depths in scraping the bottom of the barrel does not mean ALL members of the media are to be judged the same. You cannot imagine the horror of upstanding journalists the country over (including in the offices of News International) when the news broke that the Milly Dowler voicemail box had been breached and actively listened to.

    5. The PCC ECP is very clear on what constitutes public interest. The High Court has ruled on what constitutes public interest.


  16. Britt Johnston

    Italian rules would fix this

    All media belongs to the head of government, who cannot be deposed and is exempt from prosecution while in office.

    Justices are removed, one way or another, if they show signs of competence.

    Journalists are tolerated if they are young, female and scantily clad.

  17. anonymous sms

    mobile numbers data

    are they obtaining the victims numbers from the mobile networks employees?

  18. Anonymous Coward

    it's numbers racket (literally)

    Unfortunately this nonsense is nothing new. It's not difficult to generate (mobile) numbers as they start 07 (excluding 07000 et al) to get a range of numbers as there are only 4 main(ish) providers (Orange/T Mobile, O2, Vodadone and Virgin), once you have their range it only takes another 6 digits. Knock up some hardware (based on a £5 modem)/software dialler effort, see if the dialled number responds, bingo, you have a real number. I imagine that this wouldn't be too difficult to do with a VBS script on an old computer. (I haven't looked at Dialer in any serious way). Sell said numbers on to dodgy claims advisers. It's War Games all over again. Eeeeeeeeee, acoustic couplers.

  19. A Non e-mouse Silver badge

    It's easier than that...

    It's easier than you think.

    Firstly, not all 07 numbers are mobile phones: 07[5789] numbers are mobiles.

    Secondly, why not just download - the official OFCOM list of allocated 07 numbers.

  20. David Hicks

    Surely there already are offences

    For computer hacking, which this effectively is?


  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    We sorted the voicemail problem for VIPs

    There is a *massive* problem in the way these invasions are dealt with. Every counter measure I have seen has been dealing with symptoms in a sort of challenge-response fashion at amoeba levels of intelligence.

    We took a step back and looked at what the aim was of those people, and then went to attack the reasons for the "hacking" (I still can't bring myself to call this proper hacking, sorry). We didn't stop the breaches, we removed the reason for the breaches. The only problem is that this only works for VIPs, not for the average Joe Bloggs in the street.

    I personally doubt very much that dissolving the NotW will solve this problem because you cannot fix a total lack of ethics with laws - especially not since voicemail systems offer precious little forensics to work with so getting a conviction is going to be very costly.

    On the other hand, it gives Cameron a golden opportunity to do what New Labour didn't. He no longer needs to worry about his press friends getting upset, he can do what needs to be done. Let's hope he does it.

  22. Arnie

    It would appear the PCC isnt that independent

    There has recently been a sustained letter writing campaign to the PCC regarding cannabis in the media. clear-uk have been tirelesly complaing on what seems to be a daily basis only to be presented with a brickwall from the PCC. it has now come to light that they have been forwarding documents to the publications to which the complaints have been made to help them rebuff said complaints

    story here

  23. Scarborough Dave

    Don't forget the mobile network providers

    Not forgetting that the voicemail remote access vulnerability (I also wouldn't call it hacking) falls at the feet of the mobile providers using default codes.

    They could have simply used a random code and text the code to the user once the phone was activated asking the user to change the code after input.

  24. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Please support the blogs that take apart the tabloids

    Please would you take some time to visit some of the sites below and the blogs they list in their blogrolls too? If you have an RSS reader create a new "tabloid" section and add these blogs to it so you can follow them with minimal work.

    I guarantee you will be entertained and come to realise, as I did, just how deep and rotten this UK tabloid cesspit really is. Lies, spin, constant racial incitement, dodgy medical advice, endless showbiz tattle, lazy columinsts, ineffective Press Complaints Commission - the UK's tabloid press needs a ton of work to sort out right across the board. NOTW has highlighted just one small aspect of one title owned by one group.

    As you learn more, please spread the links and the work they do as far and wide in the UK as you can. Together we can bring pressure for them to be cleaned up to the standards we expect and deserve. I'm sick of reading the Express's front page medical advice headlines. I'm sick of the Mail telling me how awful brown people are. I'm sick of columnists writing offensive crap about gay people. I'm sick of the PCC being owned by the very same people and printing tiny apologies on page 27 eight weeks after the original prominent headline.

This topic is closed for new posts.

Other stories you might like