The News of the World was by no means the only newspaper whose abuses were revealed in the Motorman investigation. The analysis provided by the ICOs office for the Ministry of Justice in support of “What Price Privacy” (quoted in the Digital WorldZ summary ) indicates that three other newspapers each had three times as many transactions. The invoice count obtained by Tom Watson’s FoI request merely reflects the charging routines of the Newspapers concerned. The ICO’s analysis was quoted in the DCMS Select Committee’s 7th Report (nearly four years ago). The Committee also commented on the failure to tell newspaper proprietors the names of the 300 or so other journalists who had not been prosecuted. Mover-over the media clients of the hacking team were not confined to the tabloid press. They included researchers for at least one well-known TV programme.
The underlying problem is now new. Allegations about the purchase by reporters of information from telephone engineers and policemen go back to before the First World War.
All that is new is that the last Information Commissioner made a determined effort to use his powers, with full police co-operation, in a million pound investigation (Operation Motorman). He was then let down by the Crown Prosecution Service, the Judiciary and the Government of day – none of whom was willing to take on the National Press.
Now some of the material from that investigation is being selectively used to try to block the attempt to buy out the minority shareholders in Sky and transform it into a globally competitive 21st Century communications and broadcasting utility.
Rupert Murdoch has therefore decided to sort out a newspaper that in the 1850s was said to base most of its content on coverage of vice prosecutions , including “police transcripts and descriptions”. He may have decided that he is willing to sacrifice the worlds largest circulation english language newspaper and all that it stands for …
“You cannot hope to bribe or twist
(thank god) the British journalist
But,, seeing what the man will do
unbribed, there is no reason to”
If so, that may be because he has a clearer vision of the on-line future, and its values, than most of his critics.
Now let us fast forward into the on-line equivalent of telephone hacking, deep packet inspection, and consider the mix of hypocrisy and short-sighthedness on all sides of the arguments about privacy, surveillance etc.
I therefore make no apologies for zizagging between Ancient Sumeria and Science Fiction, via Ancient Rome and Victorian London and all stops between, in my use of analogies.
I was delighted when a Whitehall Mandarin recently said, after reading a script I had prepared to introduce a Chatham House rules discussion of the difference betwen the public and private sector approaches to security: “only you would quote Kafka and Sergeant Bilko in a speach on e-Government”. He then asked if I would repeat it for another audience. I may also use it as the basis for a future blog entry.