Sky News has today accepted that it hacked into the e-mails of the John Darwin, the man who faked his own death in order to obtain hundreds of thousands of pounds in insurance.
It appears that the e-mails were hacked during the trial of Mrs Darwin, who claimed, during her own defence to deception charges that she was influenced by her domineering husband. Sky News have justified the hacking saying that it was ‘responsible journalism’ and in the public interest and had been authorised by a senior editor.
I say – cobblers.
Under the Computer Misuse Act 1990, it is an offence to obtain information or data from a computer without authorisation. There is no defence of ‘responsible journalism’ or ‘public interest’ – the only defence is if the person had the authority of the individual, or with a warrant obtained from a circuit judge in the course of a criminal investigation.
I doubt somehow that Sky News journalists went to a circuit judge and obtained the correct warrant.
Nor is it a defence to assert that they gave the information that they obtained to the Cleveland Police after they had obtained it – that is akin to saying, we burgled someone’s house, and we found evidence of criminality by them, so we gave it to the police – the fact of the burglary still remains.
Nor do I accept this attempt to justify the act on the grounds that a ‘senior editor’ had authorised the act – I mean since when, have Sky editors regardless of their seniority been given the job of upholding our laws.
There is simply no defence in statute or otherwise to the act of hacking into someone’s e-mails and, though I am not a journalist, I doubt very much that there is a journalist in the land who doesn’t know that hacking into someone’s computer is a crime.
The ‘public interest’ argument is entirely flawed as well – there are plenty of ways in which journalists can act responsibly and in the public interest without having to undermine the fundamental rights to privacy that we all have and which are in many ways the sister rights to the rights of a free press.
The reality is that the Sky News decision to hack to into the e-mails of this man was indicative of the whole culture of riding roughshod over the rules of our land. And it is a culture that needs to be stamped out, I for one don’t like the idea of journalist going through my e-mails any more than I like the idea of an agent of the state going through my e-mails.
There is no justification, morally or legally for this act. I’m not going to pre-judge any proceedings brought against Sky under the Computer Misuse Act, but, if they have committed a crime, as they themselves suggest, then they should be charged – because ‘public interest’ is neither a defence nor a justification.