There has been plenty of outrage about surveillance and hacking in the UK’s more radical political circles of late. First, protest and environmental groups have demonstrated that they are truly ‘green’, in the sense of naive, by recoiling in horror from suggestions that the state has been snooping on and infiltrating their activities – something that, in the old days on the left, would have been assumed to be an everyday event. Then Liberty, the misnamed leading British civil rights lobby, confirmed its commitment to legal cretinism by announcing that it would report the security services to the Investigatory Powers Tribunal for hacking into its communications. In other words, Liberty was demanding that the British state be brought to book by, er, the British state.
Amid all this surveillance and hacking hysteria, however, one newly reported scandal has so far made rather less public impact and sparked less radical outrage. Why? Because it reveals that the tabloid press was far from the only British institution engaging in phone hacking and dodgy surveillance methods. And that, far from being the criminal super-villains depicted today, the newspapers have been singled out for punishment by freedom-loathing state authorities who were happy to turn a blind eye to the hacking activities of other corporations, celebrities and professions.
This story broke on Saturday, when the Independent ran a front-page exclusive under the headline ‘The Other Hacking Scandal’. It revealed the existence of a suppressed report which showed that a top police body, the Serious and Organised Crime Agency, had known six years ago that ‘some of Britain’s most respected industries routinely employ criminals to hack, blag and steal personal information on business rivals and members of the public’. Those identified as using hackers, blaggers and thieves in their business included top law firms, telecoms giants and insurance companies, as well as popular celebrities.
One of the key hackers mentioned in the SOCA report apparently admitted that only 20 per cent of his dirty work came from the media, the other 80 per cent of his hacking being requested by law firms, insurance companies and wealthy individuals. What is more, the police reportedly found evidence of some blue-chip clients using private detectives to listen into targets’ ‘real-time’ phone calls – a far more advanced form of snooping than the crude hacking of voicemail messages by the News of the World.
Yet for six years, SOCA sat on these facts and did nothing. While the police were launching a huge operation to arrest journalists, editors and their contacts, scooping up hacks in dawn raids, others were allowed to carry on hacking and blagging with apparent impunity.