Operation Motorman and its relevance to phone hacking fiasco

The Information Commissioner’s Operation Motorman and the subsequent reports, ‘What Price Privacy?’ and ‘What Price Privacy Now?’ are back in the news today despite being published in 2006.

Why? Well, five years later, the BBC reports that police have asked for the Operation Motorman files that led to the reports:

According to BBC Radio 4’s The Report, the files from Operation Motorman, which was run by the Information Commissioner’s Office in 2003, were requested three months ago.

The ICO’s findings are relevant to the phone hacking scandal for a number of reasons, if not necessarily ‘new news’.

  • Former News International CEO Rebekah Brooks mistakenly cited the Guardian’s inclusion in the ICO report when she gave parliamentary evidence on Tuesday. She claimed that The Observer, The Guardian, News of the World, Daily Mail were in the top five of a chart recording the use of private investigators. It seems likely she was referring to the ICO chart in ‘What Price Privacy Now?’ that records transactions made by various publications and how many journalists – or clients acting on their behalf – were using these services.  In fact, the top five listed were Daily Mail; Sunday People; Daily Mirror; Mail on Sunday; News of the World. The Observer appears 9th and the Guardian not at all (source: p11, What Price Privacy Now?). Questions about the Observer’s appearance in the report have been raised by journalist Iain Hepburn and the blogger Love and Garbage. Journalism.co.uk has further background here (Feb 2011).
  • Paul Dacre claimed in Parliament on Monday that he had never “countenanced” hacking or blagging at the Daily Mail. The Daily Mail did, however, feature in the ‘What Price Privacy Now?’ report. PA Media Lawyer explains:

In 2006, the Information Commissioner published a report on data theft called ‘What price privacy now?’, which was written after the Operation Motorman investigation into private investigator Steve Whittamore. After raiding Whittamore’s home police seized handwritten records documenting thousands of requests – both legal and illegal – for information from journalists. The Daily Mail topped that list with a total of 952 requests made by 52 journalists, while its sister title the Mail on Sunday was in fourth place with 266 requests from 33 journalists.

On Twitter, journalist James Ball has rightly flagged up an important point about the ICO list – not all the transactions cited are necessarily illegal. He reports that he has spoken to the ICO: “They believe #Motorman list is *all* transactions between the PI and news orgs, with no effort to check legality. That is VERY different from a list of illegal transactions by news orgs. Confirmation coming soon.”

The ‘What Price Privacy Now?’ report is embedded below:

This entry was posted in media ethics, phone hacking and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Operation Motorman and its relevance to phone hacking fiasco

  1. Pingback: Operation Motorman and its relevance to phone hacking fiasco | Media law and ethics « Soreal it Must be True

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