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Hacking in the name of journalism is a slippery slope

Published: Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Updated: Tuesday, April 10, 2012 00:04

Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. is once again at the center of media innovation, but for all the wrong reasons.

It was revealed Thursday that Sky News, a UK-based 24-hour broadcast news station and subsidiary of BSkyB — which Murdoch’s News Corp. owns a 39 percent share in, accordingto ABC News — had illegally hacked emails to access the accounts of individuals under criminal investigation.

The news comes after a November embarrassment involving News Corp. subsidiary The News of the World, which hacked into voicemail inboxes of figures such as Prince William, and a July revelation that subsidiary News America Marketing hacked competitor Floorgraphics’ computer system.

Yet for the first time, someone affiliated with News Corp. — Sky News head John Ryley — has taken a positive stance on the use of hacking in rare situations where there is a strong “public interest,” according to The Guardian.

He said Sky News had authorized two separate uses of email hacking by its journalists, including in 2008, when he said they investigated then turned into law enforcement information that gained a conviction against British woman Anne Darwin. Darwin was convicted of deception following her husband’s failed bid to fake his own death to collect on insurance, according to The Guardian.

But while Sky News played a pivotal role in gaining convictions on 15 charges of fraud and money laundering, a jail sentence of six and a half years and the recovery of more than 500,000 pounds ($796,000) in assets, the ends do not justify the means.

As uncomfortable as it may seem to know that law enforcement officials can spy on, wiretap and access computers of persons suspected of illicit behavior, they still need a warrant to do so. What Ryley is suggesting is that in huddled newsrooms across the world, the decision to hack the private information of potentially innocent individuals is potentially acceptable, as long as it might serve a strong public interest, such as recovering half a million pounds for insurance companies.

But who is he to make that decision? Ryley is only a journalist. Neither Sky News nor News Corp. are law enforcement agencies. If Ryley is allowed to decide that recovering 500,000 pounds drained illicitly from insurance companies is in the public interest, who’s to stop the next journalist from drawing the line even lower?

Additionally, if it becomes OK for the top news provider and journalists of the world to scour their beat from the comfort of their own office, then that could force other journalist to try to do the same, just to compete.

Ryley’s sense of morality seems to fall in line with those involved with other New Corp. subsidiaries this past year if he thinks hacking in journalism is acceptable. The general public’s right to privacy is far more sacred than that.

Even if Ryley’s methods gain results, if taken too far they would do more harm than good. The public shouldn’t have to worry about the spying eyes behind every news outlet simply hungry for a hot story.

Jessica Velez is a senior majoring in mass communications.

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