Thursday, 27 January 2011

Phone hacking

The current fuss regarding alleged activities of journalists or researchers allegedly hacking into voicemail of public figures and the apparent musings by the police and their legal advisers regarding application of the law on this subject prompt me to take a fresh look at the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA).

RIPA applies to interception of communications 'in the course of transmission' so you might be forgiven for querying how unauthorised intrusions into stored voice mail could be in the course of transmission of a communication. However RIPA has an extended and quite complex definition of what constitutes interception (including interference and monitoring) and also specifically contemplates accessing telecommunication systems which store messages.

So it does indeed seem possible that, with the appropriate evidence, 'hacking' of this kind could be an offence under RIPA. Nonetheless, if civil or criminal trials do result, the judgements should provide some useful clarification.

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