No evidence of hacking in Ireland but experts say it is likely to have occurred


IRISH SITUATION:AS CRITICISM of the News of the Worldcontinued to mount over phone hacking allegations, both the Press Ombudsman and Data Protection Commissioner said they had not received a single complaint about similar behaviour by Irish newspapers.

Despite the absence of any evidence of Irish newspapers hacking into the phones of celebrities, criminals and victims of crime, a number of security experts said it had been happening here at least to some degree.

“To date we have had no complaints of phone hacking or anything of that type,” Press Ombudsman John Horgan said yesterday.

He said all complaints his office received were “processed confidentially in accordance with our procedures” and all cases in which rulings were made public were available on the office’s website.

A spokesman for the Office of the Data Protection Commissioner also said there was no evidence to suggest phone hacking was prevalent within the Irish newspaper industry and said the office had not received a single complaint about phone hacking. “That does not mean, however, it is not happening, just that we have no proof that it is taking place,” he said, adding that legislation was in place “to protect people”.

He was referring to two Acts. The first is the 1983 Postal and Telecommunications Services Act, under which it is a criminal offence to intercept phone data. The Data Protection Acts of 1988 and 2003 also state that a person who obtains personal information from or about a person without their consent and discloses it to a third party is guilty of an offence.

However, security experts said that, given the ease with which phone data can be accessed, it was likely some newspaper journalists and private investigators in Ireland had circumvented the law.

“It is a very simple thing to do in the majority of cases and it does happen,” private detective Liam Brady said. “If someone has not changed their mailbox password from the default option of four zeroes, then anyone can access that person’s messages.”

He said he had “never accessed someone’s mobile phone on behalf of a newspaper” but added that it was “a reasonably standard information-gathering technique”.

“I would be very surprised if certain Irish newspapers had not used it in the past,” he said.

In May 2006 the British information commissioner produced a report which exposed an extensive illegal trade in confidential personal information and identified 31 newspapers which had traded in illegally obtained information.

The biggest offender in the UK at that time was the Daily Mail.

Among the newspapers listed in the report was the Irish Daily Mailwhich, the commissioner said, had been found to have traded in confidential information on three occasions. There were no details on the information obtained and there was no suggestion the newspaper had hacked into phones.