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Cheers - AE

Saturday, 17 December 2011

That's not a hack - this is a hack

As I mentioned back in July The Age, the Melbourne based sister paper of Sydney Morning Herald, was all over the News of the Screws phone hacking scandal like flies on a piece of shit.
The thing is that Gingery Dullard, unlike the Yanks, may have rather more cause to investigate the Aussie media. And interestingly it's not the Murdoch owned mob but their competitors, the Graun friendly, lefty-loving, phone-hack hating Fairfax group, who have been accused of being up to no good.
THE editor-in-chief of The Age, Paul Ramadge, has refused to detail his personal involvement in the newspaper's unauthorised access of an ALP database now being examined by the Australian Federal Police.
And how did this happen?
The Age accessed the database from its own computer terminals using an unauthorised password provided by an undisclosed source.
"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 Age used material obtained from the database to inform a story run in the final week of the Victorian election campaign about Labor keeping a "secret" file on citizens. Several people whose details were accessed were contacted by the newspaper before publication. Others, such as Mr Faris, were contacted after publication and assured their information would not be stored or misused.
Okay, so they may have had good reason but it sounds like it's fair to ask the question. And even if they have good reason if they commit a crime in the process does it somehow un-crime it? I'm not sure a good reason would let me off something as trivial as a speeding offence - actually I'm pretty sure it wouldn't - so I can't help thinking that if a crime has been committed with good intentions it's probably still a crime and that there'd be a case to answer.
And this week a police investigation looks more likely as the body overseeing elections in the state have got involved at the same time as a member of the public has placed the blame squarely on the newspaper that was so tumescent with joy when bashing the Murdoch rags in distant country for listening to people's voicemail.
A VICTIM of The Age's hacking of an ALP database has come forward claiming the newspaper breached her privacy, as The Weekend Australian reveals the Victorian Electoral Commission asked police to investigate the claims of illegal activity.
Claire Watson, 24, has expressed her concerns about how and why The Age accessed personal information about her, which she had agreed to share with a local MP but not with the newspaper. The public servant, who appeared in a story by Age journalist Royce Millar last year as part of the broadsheet's investigation into the ALP database, said her views had been "distorted" and "words had been put in my mouth".
"I feel my privacy has been breached by the journalist, not the ALP," she said. "I agreed to share information with the ALP, but not with The Age. He seemed dodgy and was pleased with himself. He was so indignant with the ALP, but it is clear he was hacking my file. He was trying to whip me into outrage about it."
"The journalist kept trying to put words in my mouth; he was saying it was outrageous, but I didn't think it was outrageous," she said. "The whole thing was weird. I tried telling him I wasn't outraged as I understood large organisations keep that sort of data. I think it is reasonable and good practice to keep the data."
She said she was more concerned Millar had then accessed the information.
"He knew a lot about me - my date of birth, where I lived, my phone number, opinions I had shared with a local MP . . . he was hacking into my file."
As with the voicemail thing 'hacking' seems to be an inappropriate term for what looks awfully like a simple, old fashioned leak, but for whatever reason people seem to want to believe that any electronically stored information that isn't given out voluntarily must have been hacked. I think this is a bit like insisting that when you can't find your car it can only have been stolen rather than thinking that you just forgot where you left it or you parked in a tow away zone, but the real point is that if this is all hacking how did The Age have the front to throw so many stones at the Murdoch media for the phone not-hacking when they too had been accessing information they had no bloody right to? Was the temptation to throw those stones and hopefully damage their competition at the Melbourne Herald Sun and The Australian so strong that they forgot they lived in a greenhouse?
An injunction by The Age against Victoria Police to stop the removal of computer equipment remains in place since Thursday's eight-hour raid. Two detectives from the e-crime squad remained at The Age overnight to ensure none of the computer equipment, which had been pulled apart, could be tampered with.
A spokesman for the Victorian Electoral Commission confirmed to The Weekend Australian that it had been the first to raise the issue with police.
Electoral Commissioner Steve Tully is believed to have been concerned about the manner in which the database was allegedly penetrated by The Age.
The Weekend Australian believes that police have been given access to ALP records and computer equipment but that there are mixed views in the party about how to handle the hacking issue. This is because of the potential blow-back on the Labor Party if The Age were to campaign against the party. "It's not something we wanted. There are some senior people who just want it to go away," a source said.
However, the fact the VEC approached police means investigators will have to push ahead with their inquiries. Either way, it appears police were honour-bound to proceed given the potential offences at stake and the role the VEC plays as an independent and impartial statutory authority.
And as I said back in July, since The Age isn't part of the Murdoch press and is fairly strongly left leaning politically this is not something British readers can expect to see in The Grauniad. You kind of get the impression that bashing lefties for their misdeeds and alleged misdeeds is against some kind of lefty journo code, but it's only fair to give The Age a little credit for running the story themselves.

Click for link - incidentally, I don't know if Paul and Royce Millar are related

Now, remind me. In all those column inches in The Graun slagging off companies for perfectly legal tax avoidance and minimisation was it ever mentioned that Guardian Media did the same thing or did we have to find out from Guido?
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