Home > 2011 > Identity Theft > On Cell Phone Hacking and Privacy: A Modest Proposal for Mr. Murdoch

On Cell Phone Hacking and Privacy: A Modest Proposal for Mr. Murdoch

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The recent revelations regarding the outrageous escapades of certain News Corp. subsidiaries, and the employees thereof, have been so scandalous as to capture and dominate the attention of the worldwide media for several weeks. For once, most Americans began to follow business news with the obsessive fascination normally accorded “Jersey Shore” and “Keeping Up with the Kardashians.”

This story has everything: the resignations and apparent bribery of high Scotland Yard officials; the arrest of very prominent editors and “journalists”; and the amazingly brazen invasion of the privacy of the Prime Minister of England. But it doesn’t just involve prominent names like David Cameron or Gordon Brown or even Rupert Murdoch (probably the most famous and powerful of the three.) It involves the invaded privacy of both fallen and returning soldiers and their families, the compromise of the sanctity of a child’s medical records, the attempted bribery of American law enforcement officials to obtain access to cell phones of the September 11 dead; and even, most pitifully, the manipulation of family members of an abducted 13-year-old girl who were misled into believing that their daughter was still alive because her cell phone messages were erased after her abduction—and of course after her death.

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I doubt that James Patterson could invent a plot this twisty, or that Alfred Hitchcock could conceive of a story this macabre. Truth is stranger than fiction, despite all those aliens who regularly appear in the headlines of Mr. Murdoch’s tabloids.

Much of what was done by those News Corp. employees and their retainers was accomplished by hacking the cell phones of the various victims, illustrating a very interesting fact: the smart phone that you carry is not terribly dissimilar from the one that I carry, or the one that 13-year-old girls in the UK carry, or the one that Prime Ministers use, or even from President Obama’s BlackBerry—they’re all wonderfully functional and now indispensable devices that are quite vulnerable to prying eyes, and ears.

But, the one simple fact—that all cell phones are created more or less equal—is not the only salutary revelation of the News Corp. scandal. Indeed, with all of the ink and video that has been devoted to the facts, circumstances and personalities of this extraordinary situation, it seems that no one has had the simple courtesy to thank Mr. Murdoch for all of the good things that are coming out as a result of Cell-gate.

For example, most people used to think that the most dangerous thing about a cell phone was the way it could focus microwaves on the user’s brain, causing severe and menacingly slow cerebral deterioration. Pre-Cell-gate we all believed that there was little danger much beyond forgetting the name of our kids’ favorite breakfast cereal (however memorable some of them are). Post-Cell-gate we all know that the fact that Google and Apple use the GPS feature of our phone to track us every time we slam a door pales in comparison to what can really be done to us by clever reporters—and pretty much anyone else. Mr. Murdoch’s cell-ninjas have adeptly demonstrated to the entire world something that I’ve been saying in a comparative whisper for a very long time—our privacy, our money and, potentially, our lives are at risk to almost anyone with bad intent and a certain degree of technical skill.

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A Modest Proposal for Mr. Murdoch (cont.) »

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