Exam date

When's the 2016 exam? Wednesday 8th June, am.

Friday, 6 April 2012

Sky email hacking: Public Interest Defence

The following is an example of how you can combine Use of Examples (a case study of this instance of hacking), EAA + Use of Terminology (in analysing the pros/cons of the concept of 'public interest defence', and citing specific law which may overrule this: the Computer Misuse Act). Below you'll find differing lines from Sky, Guardian, Indie, Hacked Off and Reuters, plus a linked Roy Greenslade article on the wider concept.
Huge story breaking 1st week of April 2012: Sky has admitted to using email hacking for at least two stories it ran ... but claims there is a public interest defence. Sky trumpeted about 'obtaining' emails from the faked-death John Darwin in 2008; his wife pocketed a fortune from life insurance and they went to Panama to live it up (then rather foolishly posed for pictures with an estate agent).
Here's how The Guardian broke the story. An excerpt:
Making only a minimal effort to hide the basis of the story, Tubb's report said Sky News had "discovered an email" from John to Anne dated 31 May 2007, in which he says changes to visa regulations meant he could no longer stay in Panama, where he was hiding on a tourist visa. The report cited evidence from several emails between the couple, including a "final email" from Anne that was not, "as suggested in court", evidence of a "massive row" between them, an email that Tubb said had been "handed to the police by Sky News".
The story displayed a picture of "John and Anne Darwin's masterplan", showing a detailed diagram that had apparently been produced by Darwin, and claimed to have obtained detailed financial accounts prepared by Darwin. In another story, published in November 2009, Tubb quoted directly from an email written by John Darwin to his wife in 2007, explaining that their property in Panama had been valued at $1m and adding: "You're a filthy rich gringo". But a link to copies of the couple's emails is now dead.
The broadcaster also published a voicemail message on its website, dated 19 May 2007, in which Anne Darwin is clearly heard leaving a message for her husband. The voicemail, part of an interactive graphic, ends with her saying "I'll try and catch you tomorrow. Love you," which the broadcaster said showed "she was doing as much of the running as he was".
Sky News said this was not obtained by phone hacking and a spokesman said: "All of the material obtained by Sky News was via the Darwins' computer-based email accounts. As we have said previously, Cleveland Police were made aware of the source of the material when Sky News shared it with them. We stand by our editorial decisions, which were justified in the public interest."
Sky News responded today by accusing the paper of double standards; here's an excerpt:
Some of the most important stories have involved breaking the rules in some way. For example, the Daily Telegraph's exposé of the MPs' expenses scandal was very clearly in the public interest, but only happened because the newspaper took the decision to pay for stolen data. They have been widely applauded - deservedly - for doing so.
Indeed, if it was looking for further examples, the Guardian could have found them much closer to home. Its respected investigative reporter David Leigh has admitted hacking a phone in pursuit of a story. The Guardian's sister paper, the Observer, was found on more than 100 occasions to have commissioned information from a notorious private investigator, who was convicted in 2006 of illegally obtaining private data. In each case, a public interest justification has been claimed.
The story has lead headlines for days now. The Indie was one of several to flag up a key point of law which potentially undermines Sky's line that there was a public interest defence:
Although no one has been arrested for the computer hacking, there is no public interest defence in the Computer Misuse Act. The development follows the revelation that The Times, another part of the Murdoch news operation, was found to have hacked into the emails of the blogger Nightjack, who the paper outed as the serving police officer Richard Horton.
“Hacked Off today renews its calls for a public interest defence in law after Sky News confessed to hacking into emails, claiming it did so ‘in the public interest’.
“Yet because there is no public interest defence in law for the Computer Misuse Act, Sky has to rely on the discretion of the prosecution services not to prosecute.
“This is unsatisfactory. If Sky News believes there is a clear public interest to hack into emails then it should have a clear and consistent legal defence for its actions.
“Journalists would feel confident to speak openly about the methods they use to discover stories in the public interest if they knew there was a proper defence for their actions in law.
“Hacked Off hopes that the Leveson Inquiry will recommend the introduction of a formal public interest defence in law for the protection of journalism.”
If you want an ostensibly neutral (I don't think such a thing exists) news source, here's how news agency Reuters reported the story.

Final word from me on this: NewsCorp has been guilty of flagrant abuse, and intrusions into the privacy of 1000s, but don't dismiss Sky's line of argument just because the source is arguably tainted; consider the merits of the argument, not just the source. Read more on the public interest defence in this book extract from the Roy Greenslade column.

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