British journalists working for Murdoch papers have been on a crime spree, hiring private eyes to illegally hack into the voicemail and data of thousands of people, including " tax records, social security files, bank statements and itemised phone bills"; Murdoch has paid out over £1M so far to hush it up. The head of the Conservative party's communications is a former Murdoch exec who from the time that much of this crime was committed by his staffers.
Senior editors are among those implicated. This activity occurred before the mobile phone hacking, at a time when Coulson was deputy and the editor was Rebekah Wade, now due to become chief executive of News International. The extent of their personal knowledge, if any, is not clear: the News of the World has always insisted that it would not break the law and would use subterfuge only if essential in the public interest.
Faced with this evidence, News International changed their position, started offering huge cash payments to settle the case out of court, and finally paid out £700,000 in legal costs and damages on the condition that Taylor signed a gagging clause to prevent him speaking about the case. The payment is believed to have included more than £400,000 in damages. News Group then persuaded the court to seal the file on Taylor's case to prevent all public access, even though it contained prima facie evidence of criminal activity.
As civil liberties campaigner Dr Ian Brown notes:
There are two particularly troubling aspects to this story. The Metropolitan Police, Crown Prosecution Service and Information Commissioner's Office all had prima facie evidence of these crimes, but have declined to take action against News Group. And, mobile phone companies continue to allow access to messages using voicemail PINs set to defaults that are apparently known throughout the media.
Perhaps in future:
1. Law enforcement agencies will take action against those discovered to be breaking the law, whether or not they work for powerful newspaper groups?
2. Mobile phone companies will not leave their customers' communications wide open to abuse?
3. Government agencies and companies will think a little more carefully before building up large collections of sensitive personal data that will inevitably be sold to the highest bidder?