Due diligence and diligent customer service

This one is a little off-topic but the News International ‘phone hacking’ scandal has dominated the headlines over the past week highlighting the twin walking disasters that are British Politics and British News Media. Buried away in the coverage there are a couple of things that are bugging me:

1. In 2007 the Bancroft Dynasty sold their stake in the Wall Street Journal to News International. This week scion Christopher Bancroft has said:

“If I had known what I know now, I would have pushed harder against (the Murdoch bid).” 

There’s a long held legal principle that ignorance is no excuse and it applies equally well here. Had the Bancroft’s done their due diligence they might have found the UK Information Commissioner’s Dec 2006 report “What Price Privacy Now?” Within that document the ICO states:

“Having considered the matter (illegal trade in personal information) further the Information Commissioner has decided that a further disclosure is in the public interest and in the context of a special report to Parliament is consistent with the discharge of his functions under the Data Protection Act 1998. The following table shows the publications identified from documentation seized during the Operation Motorman investigation, how many transactions each publication was positively identified as being involved in and how many of their journalists (or clients acting on their behalf) were using these services.”

Here’s the top of that table:

 Of course, there might be 5.6 billion different reasons why the Bancroft’s due diligence failed to spot this blemish on News International’s sterling record of reportage.

2. ‘Phone hacking’ is a bit of a misnomer, ringing through to some poor sap’s voice mailbox and spoofing their default PIN bears little resemblance to the phreaking of Joe Engressia or even Woz, Jobs and the Blue Box. That notwithstanding the mobile network operators themselves have, arguably, failed in their duty of care to customers.

Granted new mailbox set-up is now a little more secure but to the very best of my knowledge no operator has contacted their customer base, via email or SMS, to advise a PIN change – how many people are still unwittingly using a default PIN? Why was it ever considered a good idea to use default PINs?

Two relatively trivial points of order in this vast calamity but I needed to get that off my chest. On a related note, nice to see the Great British Public fired up about something other than the X-Factor.