WHAT’S GOOD FOR THE GOOSE
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.
THEY DON’T GET IT
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.
KEEP US SAFE FROM THE AGE’S ILLEGAL INTRUSIONS
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.