The New York Times takes a look at a cellphone voicemail-hacking scandal in the United Kingdom that violated the privacy of the royal family and possibly that of numerous other celebrities:
IN NOVEMBER 2005, three senior aides to Britain’s royal family noticed odd things happening on their mobile phones. […] [Aides] began to suspect that someone was eavesdropping on their private conversations.
By early January 2006, Scotland Yard had confirmed their suspicions. An unambiguous trail led to Clive Goodman, the News of the World reporter who covered the royal family, and to a private investigator, Glenn Mulcaire, who also worked for the paper. The two men had somehow obtained the PIN codes needed to access the voice mail of the royal aides. […]
As Scotland Yard tracked Goodman and Mulcaire, the two men hacked into Prince Harry’s mobile-phone messages. […] The palace was in an uproar, especially when it suspected that the two men were also listening to the voice mail of Prince William, the second in line to the throne. The eavesdropping could not have gone higher inside the royal family, since Prince Charles and the queen were hardly regular mobile-phone users. But it seemingly went everywhere else in British society. Scotland Yard collected evidence indicating that reporters at News of the World might have hacked the phone messages of hundreds of celebrities, government officials, soccer stars — anyone whose personal secrets could be tabloid fodder.
AS OF THIS SUMMER, five people have filed lawsuits accusing News Group Newspapers, a division of Rupert Murdoch’s publishing empire that includes News of the World, of breaking into their voice mail. Additional cases are being prepared, including one seeking a judicial review of Scotland Yard’s handling of the investigation. The litigation is beginning to expose just how far the hacking went, something that Scotland Yard did not do. In fact, an examination based on police records, court documents and interviews with investigators and reporters shows that Britain’s revered police agency failed to pursue leads suggesting that one of the country’s most powerful newspapers was routinely listening in on its citizens. […]
News of the World was hardly alone in accessing messages to obtain salacious gossip. “It was an industrywide thing,” said Sharon Marshall, who witnessed hacking while working at News of the World and other tabloids. “Talk to any tabloid journalist in the United Kingdom, and they can tell you each phone company’s four-digit codes. Every hack on every newspaper knew this was done.” […]
FOR DECADES, London tabloids have merrily delivered stories about politicians having affairs, celebrities taking drugs and royals shaming themselves. Gossip could end careers, giving the tabloids enormous power. There seemed to be an inverse relationship between Britain’s strict privacy laws and the public’s desire to peer into every corner of other people’s lives. To feed this appetite, papers hired private investigators and others who helped obtain confidential information, whether by legal or illegal means. The illicit methods became known as “the dark arts.” One subspecialty involved “blagging” — getting information by conning phone companies, government agencies and hospitals, among others. “What was shocking to me was that they used these tactics for celebrity tittle-tattle,” said Brendan Montague, a freelance journalist. “It wasn’t finding out wrongdoing. It was finding out a bit of gossip.”