The newspaper regulator Ofcom has announced that it will investigate the hacking of private email accounts by journalists working at Sky.
The announcement comes after Sky admitted to the Leveson enquiry into media ethics that it had hacked the email account of John Darwin, the man who faked his own death and later reappeared living abroad. The organisation also admitted hacking the email account of a suspected paedophile.
The head of Sky News, John Ryley, admitted to the Leveson enquiry that his journalists had broken the law; however, in questioning he added: “I think it’s highly unlikely in the future that Sky will consider breaking the law… I’m pretty much ruling it out.”
However, defending the actions of his journalists at the time, “Journalism is at times a tough business and at times we need to shed light on wrongdoing,” he said.
Mr Darwin faked his own death after disappearing at sea in a canoe. The broadcaster admitted hacking his email account, and that of his wife. However, they previously defended the action, saying that the evidence they gathered was in the public interest, and was eventually handed to police to assist with their enquiries.
The announcement by Ofcom comes just as Mr Ryley gave evidence to the enquiry, and only a few days after James Murdoch, the former chairman of BSkyB, gave his evidence.
Ofcom has said it will investigate the issues raised by Sky’s hacking of email accounts.
Legally there is no public interest defence to offences committed under the Computer Misuse Act 1990. However, Sky had indicated that the Crown Prosecution Service had acknowledged that there were some circumstances where it was justified for a journalist to commit an offence.
Ofcom has a range of punishments available to it, which vary from a fine or warning through to a revocation of licence in the most serious cases.
Speaking after the announcement, an Ofcom spokesman said: “Ofcom is investigating the fairness and privacy issues raised by Sky News’ statement that it had accessed without prior authorisation private email accounts during the course of its news investigations. We will make the outcome known in due course.”
Read more on the story (BBC)
Computer hacking and the law (FindLaw)
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