The story of “Blue chip hacking”, and the idea that the SOCA list of names who used the services of Private Investigators (PIs) who employed dubious means to obtain information will reveal a scandal to put what happened to the Screws in the shade, has been allowed to take hold, especially in that part of the Fourth Estate that is opposed to independent press regulation. This is not a coincidence.
And, now that Keith Vaz, chair of the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee, has signalled his intention to make public that list of names – subject to a small amount of redaction due to crossover with current Police investigations – the level of expectation is being raised to a level that will prove unsustainable in very short order. For starters, the list does not reveal any hacking.
Yes, I know, there’s yet another piece in the Mail today, “Simon Cowell is on the 'hacking list' of private detectives' clients which MPs and police are trying to hide from the public”, with its first sub-heading “Serious Organised Crime Agency says 102 firms and individuals who hired 'hackers'”, but one should note the routine Mail use of quotation marks. There is no hacking involved.
Moreover, all that the list reveals is that a number of clients – which apparently includes The Black Helmet – used the services of PIs who, on occasion, obtained information by illegal methods. The clients may not have been aware of the methods used, and the PIs may have completed some of these enquiries without recourse to dodgy information gathering activities.
So the list of names does not confirm any wrongdoing – as I’ve pointed out previously, this is not evidential standard information, and nothing even approaching the level of incrimination of Glenn Mulcaire’s notebooks. So why is the press insisting on using the term “hacking” if there has not been any, and why perpetuate the idea that there has been some kind of cover-up?
The answer to both can be found in the approaching consideration of the Royal Charter on press regulation – the one the press don’t like – and the associated propensity of the Fourth Estate to play the victim. The SOCA list pertains to Operation Millipede, which is about blagging, not hacking. But the press says “hacking” to equate this to what happened at the Screws.
So readers are fed the impression that the poor hacks are being unfairly treated, but had the press really wanted to find out about the SOCA process, they would know that a fourteen page dossier of responses to criticisms, along with timelines, has already been made available (thanks to the excellent Brown Moses Hackgate Files blog). But this doesn’t match the agenda, and so the press hasn’t gone there.
This story is just another pawn in the press regulation game. There will be more.