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THE AGE HACKING SCANDAL: Fairfax Editor and journalists implicated in illegal database hacking

The Age newspaper, its editor Paul Ramadge and potential criminal defendants Royce Millar and Nick McKenzie face gravely serious allegations of illegally hacking the ALP’s computers during the last Victorian state election.

The Sunday Herald Sun’s award-winning reporter James Campbell writes that Labor tracked this illegal access back to IP addresses associated with Fairfax, the publisher of The Age. He reports that The Age staff not only illegally accessed the database but scandalously attempted to copy it in its entirety:

ALP orders hacking probe

THE ALP has obtained legal advice on the laws relating to computer hacking after its IT systems were accessed during last year’s state election via computers housed within The Age newspaper office.

The advice was sought after an ALP audit of the party’s Eleczilla database, which contains the personal details of millions of Victorians, found the database had been accessed from two computer terminals inside The Age.

The database holds the names, addresses, phone numbers and marital status of every Victorian on the electoral roll, and confidential details of correspondence from the public with the ALP.

The source said the database had been accessed many times, with searches for the personal details of scores of individuals.

“They didn’t just look at it — they attempted to copy it,” the source said.

laurelandhardyThe ALP believes the password to access the site was obtained from a laptop computer stolen from a union’s offices during the election.

Last November, The Age published a report by Royce Millar and Nick McKenzie in which they said the newspaper had “gained access” to the ALP’s database.

The Sunday Herald Sun has obtained a copy of legal advice from a major plaintiff law firm on the implications of accessing a database without permission.

“The maximum penalty is two years’ imprisonment and the offence attracts absolute liability . . . there is no available defence such as public interest,” it said.

A source said the party was puzzled why the database had been accessed from Fairfax’s offices and not an internet cafe, where “we would never have known about it”.

ALP state secretary Noah Carroll said the matter was under investigation, but Labor sources said a decision over whether to refer the matter to the police had yet to be made.

“We are aware of a breach and are considering our actions on an ongoing basis,” Mr Carroll said.

Paul Ramadge, editor-in-chief of The Age, denied hacking.

“No journalist at The Age at any stage hacked into an ALP database,” he said.

“The Age was provided with access to a database by people involved in the ALP’s election campaign.

“They had come to us saying the database raised questions about how the party was gaining access to people’s private information.”

The magnitude of this privacy breach could be massive, vastly exceeding the News of the World’s notorious hacking of a few celebrity voicemails which have seen multiple criminal prosections, sackings, lawsuits, expensive settlements and downright carnage after it came out the otherwise-excellent newspaper had been using private detectives to do the dirty.

The database The Age hackers appear to have gained illegal access contains the private details of potentially millions of Victorian voters, including what The Age itself described as ‘sensitive financial and health information.’

The hacking incidents informed a front-page splash days prior to the election in the paper’s desperate attempt to campaign for the Greens among the newspaper’s inner-city readership. It was considered by inner-city political strategists to be a highly damaging albeit bogus beat-up story, with reports that many MPs fielded many concerned inquiries about this supposedly secret voter database. Of course, its existence was never a secret although its contents – for legitimate privacy reasons – are kept secret. Both the Liberal and Labor parties maintain the same types of databases that are designed to ensure good service for constituents and to remind MP’s and staff what issues they might have that had required their involvement or were of more general concern to the voter.

theagetandberggreensDemonising the database Electrac was a cheap shot but was a reasonably effective one. It has now emerged that in order to get their front-page scoop to boost the Greens, Ramadge’s reporters Millar and McKenzie broke the law.

Brazenly, the scribes appear to admit their crimes when they reported: at the time:

In a rare insight into personal profiling by the major parties, The Age has gained access to the database used by the ALP to tailor its telephoning and door-knocking of individual voters in key marginal electorates.

Bizarrely, their defence is that they were given the password by someone from the ALP, a person who could also be imprisoned as a result of the hacking scandal. Of course, that is no defence to cybercriminal hacking, if I give someone my password to online banking that doesn’t entitle them to access it without my permission. As we will see, the law is clear on this.

Their article reveals an intimate familiarity with the database Electrac, which it seems they hacked into without the ALP’s permission, in violation of federal law.

The system allows searches based variously on people’s names, addresses and their stances on issues such as gay rights and the environment. It also enables mapping of campaign street walks, giving candidates and volunteers access to profiles on many of the people they door-knock or phone – including their voting intentions.

In what appears to the first front-page guilty plea by newspaper staff in modern publishing history, The Age published this infographic too:

Information taken from the ALP database.

That’s not an ideal situation in light of the legal predicament The Age and its employees now find themselves in. In short, editor Paul Ramadge, reporters Royce Miller and Nick McKenzie appear to be criminals.

A legal expert familiar with the situation has drafted advice about that has been in circulation in Victorian Labor circles since the election. It paints an ominous picture for The Age hackers.




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  1. This story lays the basis for charges of being a criminal hack.

    Posted by Glen Mahoulis | April 17, 2011, 1:34
  2. Does grubby Nick McKenzie’s involvement surprise anyone?

    Posted by ethnic branchstacker | April 17, 2011, 6:56
  3. I hope they don’t hack into my emails and make them public. If they did my husband would find out about my misadventures at the Kennedy Room with Mr Right. I am feeling a little green about the gills just thinking about my exploration of sexual socialism being made public.

    Posted by SHY | April 17, 2011, 7:11
  4. There seems to be more to this. Is this part of a problem of relationships being too close with some ALP MPs. You name Royce Millar and Nick McKenzie but another Age journalist was once a ‘dummy’ candidate in the Preston area. His normal scruffy appearance was digitally retouched by a current labor electoral officer to present a clean cut liberal image to voters. It is hard for people in the Preston area to take that Age journalist seriously.

    Both voters and rank and file members of the ALP are poorly served by such close relationships between ALP MPs and journalists at the Age. Personal details should not be shared as there were in Age info box – why would Thornbury, Preston or Northcote voters share anything with an MPs again?

    Posted by this is serious | April 17, 2011, 10:02
  5. How did the journalists get codes and passwords for database?

    The Age editor indicates insiders in ALP gave info? If that is the case then how was the data given and by who? Both scenarios are suspect. There is an issue of protection of sources but in this case it is hard to see how it applies.

    It does not appear that the public interest was served by this breach of privacy and the AGE needs to come clean.

    Posted by inside job? | April 17, 2011, 11:17
  6. The Electrac story broke day before the state election in November, not during the federal campaign. See link below.


    HS and Vex both screwed up on basic, very basic fact checking. [VEXNEWS:No, we didn’t, actually. We stated it was the state election]

    Posted by Anonymous | April 17, 2011, 14:37
  7. Is The Age dumbest reporter Caroline Webb and the Melbourne Weekly Trash Mag Slag Rebecca Thistleton in this group too?

    Posted by Adrian Jackson | April 17, 2011, 16:42
  8. They’ll do porridge for this, let’s just hope it’s the organic stuff.

    Posted by Red Baillieu | April 17, 2011, 19:36
  9. Of course, they love hackers at The Age, if their support of Assange is any indication.

    Posted by Ben | April 17, 2011, 22:19
  10. The high moral ground claimed by AGE reporters and the GREENS is astounding. We have this case of privacy breach with no justification by AGE. We also had the public admission in the AGE by Greens Greg Barbar that public funding from federal election would be rolled in to Greens State election. The morality of the AGE and the Greens is so low that Barbar made the public boast and no AGE journalist followed up on this breach of commonwealth law.
    Federal election funding is based on documented expenses and capped per vote. To assert a surplus on this money is an admission of fraud in the initial claim.

    But now we know why AGE journalist ignore greens breaches like this – they too operate above the law.

    Posted by Above the law elites | April 18, 2011, 9:00
  11. Mmmmmmm …. I remember the story and thinking how damaging it was in the four State seats held by the ALP and the three State seats held by the Liberals where people still take The Age seriously.

    If access was gained improperly then there is a serious matter to consider – the law was prima facie broken and there should be consequences. However, I am concerned about the reach of a law that doesn’t provide for a proper public interest test to be pleaded as a defence.

    If the journalists can show that the access was not for the purposes of breaching privacy or gaining commercial advantage but for the sole purpose of revealing the storage of highly sensitive personal and confidential information collected without consent then that should be seen to be a public good.

    Political parties should not be exempt from privacy and data storage laws. They should have to show a public interest in the collection, storage and dissemination of confidential information. Winning elections is not a proper purpose for collecting private information – serving constituents is a proper purpose. It should be obligatory for political parties to advise people of the information they hold on them and allow access for free to view, correct or expunge data that people do not want kept on them. That would impose a cost on them but political parties are recipients of public funding and should be accountable at the highest standards not crawling along at the lowest.

    Given the Greens are such hypocrites, perhaps their members of parliament can make their records available for inspection first.

    Posted by Giuseppe De Simone | April 18, 2011, 15:26
  12. I was just breakin in to show you all how unsafe the data was. Shocking innit?

    Posted by Above the law | April 18, 2011, 16:42
  13. Who cares?Big Brother knows everything.Dont believe it?

    Posted by Nuts | April 18, 2011, 16:54
  14. They can have a cell next door to a certain Hun columnist and rattle their reusable plastic coffee cups against the bars of an evening.

    Posted by Disillusioned | April 18, 2011, 17:50
  15. I will make my new School Energy Drink law. It is based on an old family recipe.

    Posted by Red Ted | April 18, 2011, 22:57
  16. We ruv leadin your Plime Minister’s emails and those of Led Ted. This mean we are better informed than all ozzies.

    Rots more taxes coming!

    Posted by Hackers of Huizhou | April 19, 2011, 0:36
  17. This is not the first time one eyed royce has decided to take the law into his own hands. He needs to be locked up and have the keys thrown away.

    Posted by god help us Rob Hulls is deputy leader | April 19, 2011, 11:03
  18. Has anyone asked why the ALP has made such a massive invasion of the privacy of millions of Victorians by compiling and using such sensitive personal information? I find that much more offensive than revealing the existence of the database by the Age reporters.

    Posted by Inquisitive of Brisbane | April 19, 2011, 12:40
  19. Come on Vex, let’s hear the story about Grotty Garotti and his nest of stolen ballot papers. I heard the pathetic little rat has been taking ‘tips’ (and possibly more…) from his touchy/feely mentor Mr L…

    Posted by Kemper Boyd | April 19, 2011, 16:24
  20. Kemper Boyd, I agree.

    Posted by The moral high ground. | April 19, 2011, 18:41
  21. Why would The Age hack ALP emails? All they would find are ‘The end is nigh’ and ‘mea culpa’ crap from the ratbags that sold out their electorates, delivering them to the unelected top-end-of-town Liberal hoodlums who will just screw everyone as they have since time immemorial.

    Posted by Vomitus | April 20, 2011, 1:57
  22. i hope no one hacked in to the video footage of me and a liberal colleague in the reflection room at parliament house. Even though my mouth was full I was saying stop, stop.

    It reminded me of protesting against the things that I secretly covet – like business class airfares, pay rises for politicians, free petrol for my car and a reflection room in parliament house.

    Oh golly gosh, let me meet Mr Right again but please don’t tell my husband.

    Posted by SHY | April 20, 2011, 6:24
  23. I am aware of Nick McKenzie interviewing some homeless women in about 2009 after they were ‘referred’ unethically to him by Nick’s “friend” the Public Advocate Colleen Pierce, whom they had rung up for help.
    After both of them promising to help these poor distraught women, including Nick personally offering to store their belongings in his fathers’ garage, he just left them up in the air and never followed through with anything. No story, nothing. Got their hopes up and I understand they waited for weeks for him to never ring back. They were re-traumatised and very distraught by the time Nick had finished with them. It was all totally unethical. And Colleen Pearce and Nick McKenzie went into the Public Advocates’ private office, leaving the poor homeless women outside like they had leprosy, while Nick and Colleen unethically talked about these women’s private affairs without their permission.
    So much for pretending these two care about the rights of the powerless.
    And once Colleen Pearse had “referred” these women onto the Age Newspaper office, she had nothing more to do with them, as if she had referred them on to another Government department. Which The Age is not.

    Posted by aaa | April 26, 2011, 18:58
  24. Garotti has got El Asmar’s support for Jaga Jaga nimination when Macklin retires.

    Posted by Anonymous | April 28, 2011, 16:05


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