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GEESE AND GANDER: The Age’s neck on chopping block over their own hacking scandal

theagehackerThe Age’s nauseating and grossly disproportionate coverage of a saga relating to a now-closed UK weekly tabloid has today led to renewed attention to their own computer hacking scandal.

Today, The Australian hops into the story, complete with a demand from a victim of the Age’s illegal hacking, Peter Faris QC, for investigation of the scandal by the authorities. Readers will recall The Age has essentially admitted access to the ALP’s confidential constituent database Electrac.

We can only hope regulators give these serious matters the proper legal scrutiny. Certainly a lesson that can be drawn from the UK saga is that a cover-up is not appropriate.

That applies equally to the victims of the hacking, in this case there’s every reason why the ALP would want the matter to go away, victims of crime often feel that way, but there are important issues of public interest involved so we hope Labor has the moral courage to step up and protect the interests of all Australians from the illegal activities of Age reporters Nick McKenzie and Royce Millar.

Today’s Australian quotes the Age’s editor-in-chief Paul Ramadge with words that appear to amount to a confession of the crime:

"This story came through entirely appropriate journalistic methods," Ramadge said. "Entry to the ALP database came via a whistleblower who raised concerns about private information held on it. This whistleblower had authorised access to this material and we reported in the public interest."

The trouble with that is that just because someone gave The Age’s Royce Millar a password the newspaper didn’t as a result have permission to access Labor’s Electrac database, any more than if someone gave me the password to Royce Millar’s Betfair account that we’d be entitled to log-in, see what he’d bet on, and put a fiver on an ageing grey nag on Race 4 at Randwick. The law is pretty clear about all this.

The Age’s spin/defence doesn’t stand the slightest scrutiny. If they really had a “whistleblower” (and not just a corruptly obtained password) who had legal access to the database, then why did they repeatedly and brazenly access the database, without the ALP’s permission, from The Age’s computers, embarking on a wide range of searches, many completely unrelated to any story about databases. McKenzie, Millar and others (like Ben Schneiders) searched on a range of prominent Melburnians, family members, their girlfriends, subjects of later-published stories, their colleagues, you name it.

It was not the high-minded pursuit of news they claim, it was sleazy, venal and, most importantly, blatantly illegal and outrageous.

Why didn’t they merely ask the whistleblower to print out the contents of it and pass it on? That wouldn’t have involved cyber-criminal hacking.

The short answer – which is often the answer to explain criminality be it armed robbery or expense account fiddling – is that the temptation to do their own searching on a secret database from the convenience of their own premises was too much. They just couldn’t help themselves.

And that is most certainly exactly the same type of conduct about which they complain so vehemently in England. One victim, Peter Faris QC, says The Age’s criminal conduct is not as bad as what went on in the UK. We disagree, it’s worse. The nature of the ALP’s confidential constituent database is – in our view – far more sensitive that the random, unprotected phone voicemail messages of the targets of UK tabloids.

Members of the public share with members of Parliament, on occasion, the most sensitive information about troubles in their lives that involved trusting them with secrets about their finances, health, family and so on. The public is entitled to the protection of that data, to be sure, MPs and their parties should take measures to keep it safe. But, equally, when fiendish cybercriminals use corrupt means to illegally obtain access to that data, strictly enforced tough laws should be in place to bring them to justice.

If obtaining unauthorised access to data is scandalous in the UK, the same conduct ought be scandalous here. If we have similar laws – and we do – that prohibit unauthorised access to data, then the authorities ought to take swift, decisive action to bring the wrong-doers to justice, just as they are in the UK.


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  1. What are the Victoria Police doing about this?

    Posted by Giuseppe De Simone | July 15, 2011, 14:01
  2. I would like The Age to come clean about who accessed what, about whom and why. There has been a general admission that a whistleblower gave a journalist a password to access the ALP database but I’d like to know how that access was used and indeed if there was any misuse. I also suspect the use of a password not belonging to you is skating very close to an offence under the Crimes Act – that of obtaining a financial advantage by deception – the financial advantage being the selling of newspapers, the deception being pretending to be the authorised user of the password.

    Posted by Giuseppe De Simone | July 15, 2011, 14:10
  3. It should be referred to the Australian Federal Police for their immediate investigation.

    Or is it going to be another case of where the “little guy” will be investigated up the clacker but big corporations are too tough to investigate and get away with it ?

    Posted by Will the Age get away with it ? | July 15, 2011, 14:59
  4. This is all the more important because the other half of the story in the UK and maybe now the US is that the press and the police have been too close, even corruptly so. God forbid that is the case here in Australia but surely both the Victoria Police and the AFP should treat this case as they would any other and send the boys in at 6 a.m.? Anything else looks suspicious. That is the climate we are now in. So time for Inspector Knacker of the Yard to go about his work.

    Posted by Inspector Knacker | July 15, 2011, 20:12
  5. Whilst Nws of the World and other Murdoch publications probably present the worst of the abuse abuse of media power that has been abused fir too long without accountability, therrvare others including so called respectable publications.

    it is dangerous for politicians to be driving an inquiry into the media. however, e time has come for the media – and let’s not forget the lawyers – to be subjected to a little scrutiny as well.

    Media nd lawyers seem to regard themselves as being defenders of integrity of process – watchdogs, if you like. But they have enormous power and, sometimes, conflicts of interest – with no accountability other than that which they apply to themselves. We wouldn’t cop that from politiciians Who wathches the watchdogs.?

    time to investigate some type to investigate some form of independent oversight of abuses of power by both.

    Posted by Perry White | July 16, 2011, 2:54


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