Revelations that U.K. tabloid journalists may have graduated to hacking computers in addition to mobile phones may form the next scandal facing Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., a U.K. lawmaker investigating privacy violations by the now-defunct News of the World said.
Police and parliament have mostly focused their probes on how journalists illegally accessed the voice mails of celebrities, politicians, and crime victims, and who at the company knew about it. More revelations of computer hacking and other forms of spying could emerge, Tom Watson, a Labour Party lawmaker, said yesterday.
“My own concerns are that this will lead to other forms of covert surveillance and I think the next scandal will be computer hacking and we’re going to be living with this for weeks and months to come,” said Watson, a member of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee that is investigating phone hacking. Watson made the comments after the committee published additional statements from News Corp. deputy chief operating officer James Murdoch and others beyond what they offered in their initial testimony July.
London’s Metropolitan Police opened a third investigation into reporting tactics at the end of July which focuses on computer hacking while not specifically targeting News Corp. The probe, dubbed Operation Tuleta, is considering “a number of allegations regarding breach of privacy” and computer hacking that they have received since January, police said.
The allegations are outside the scope of the two other police probes opened earlier this year into phone hacking and police bribery.
Tuleta began following allegations by Ian Hurst, a former British Army intelligence officer. Hurst on Aug. 1 sued News Group, the unit of the New York-based company that publishes the Sun and formerly the News of the World, claiming it hired a computer expert to hack into his e-mail, according to his lawyer, Mark Lewis.
Hurst said his computer was accessed by a man hired by the News of the World’s Dublin office in 2006 using an e-mail virus. Hurst, who used the pseudonym “Martin Ingram,” helped to expose an Irish Republican Army officer as an informer. He co-wrote the book “Stakeknife: Britain’s Secret Agents in Ireland” in 2004.
News International declined to comment via e-mail when asked about computer hacking. Regarding the statements to parliament the company said “We recognize the seriousness of materials disclosed to the police and parliament and are committed to working in a constructive and open way with all the relevant authorities.”
Allegations of computer hacking by News Corp. have surfaced before.
Charlotte Harris, a lawyer with nearly 70 clients who were potential victims in the phone-hacking scandal, said she’s seen evidence of possible computer hacking in some of her cases.
Sienna Miller, who accepted 100,000 pounds ($165,000) from News Corp. in June to end a lawsuit she filed against the company for accessing her voice mails, might have also had her e-mail hacked, her lawyer, Hugh Tomlinson, said at a hearing in April. No claims related to computer hacking were made in her lawsuit.
“If it did happen, it would’ve been a private investigator doing it rather than a journalist directly,” said Niri Shan, head of media law at Taylor Wessing LLP in London. “It’s a criminal offense, as it’s a criminal offense to listen to someone’s voicemail.”
In 2009, the News of the World was sued by lawmaker Nigel Griffiths for allegedly hacking into his computer to gain access to photos the member of Parliament took during a sexual liaison in his office with a woman who wasn’t his wife. The front-page story featured pictures of Griffiths in his underwear.
His lawyer has said the photos were obtained in an “extremely underhand way,” and that they didn’t know how they were removed from Griffiths’ computer.
The case hasn’t gone to trial, and court filings in the matter aren’t public.
In the U.S., Manhattan federal prosecutors have joined the inquiry into allegations that News Corp.’s American marketing arm hacked a password-protected website at Floorgraphics Inc., an attorney for Floorgraphics has said.
William Isaacson, a lawyer at Boies, Schiller & Flexner LLP who represented Floorgraphics at a 2009 civil trial against News America Marketing In-Store Services, said two Manhattan prosecutors participated in his July 18 interview by the FBI. In its lawsuit, Floorgraphics, based in Hamilton, New Jersey, claimed News America hacked its website in 2003 and 2004.