Ofcom To Probe Sky News Email Hacks

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The comms regulator is looking into Sky News actions after it admitted hacking into the Darwins’ emails

Ofcom is to investigate Sky News’ hacking of email accounts, after the broadcaster admitted it had accessed the accounts of “canoe man” John Darwin and his wife Anne.

The Darwins were sent to prison after it was discovered the husband had faked his own death, whilst his wife was living in their marital home. Anne Darwin collected £500,000 in life insurance payouts after her husband went missing in 2002.

Sky News defended itself earlier this month for allowing a journalist to obtain access to email accounts in order to uncover communications between the Darwins. Head of Sky News, John Ryley, said the broadcaster stood by its actions as “editorially justified.”

Ofcom wades in…

Yet that excuse has not washed with Ofcom, which said today it is looking into the matter. A spokesperson told TechWeekEurope Sky News had been contacted to let it know it was now under investigation. The regulator expects to have made a decision within 90 days.

“We’ve launched a fairness and privacy investigation,” the spokesperson added. “We’ve got a general duty to ensure the public is protected from unwarranted infringements on their privacy .

“Sky News will be given an opportunity to provide representations… we’ve identified areas of concern.”

Sky has also admitted hacking the email account of a suspected paedophile.

Section 8 of Ofcom’s broadcasting code says “if the broadcast of a programme would infringe the privacy of a person or organisation, consent should be obtained before the relevant material is broadcast, unless the infringement of privacy is warranted.”

It remains illegal to hack into people’s machines under the Computer Misuse Act. A proposed EU law would make the minimum sentence for hacking into a machine two years in prison.

Ryley defended his broadcaster’s actions again today at the Leveson Inquiry, even though he admitted they had breached criminal law. He revealed that the journalist looking into the case decided to gain access to the email accounts after they learned from sources close to the prosecution suggested “it might be worth looking at the emails”.

“Sources close to the prosecution made clear they weren’t going to be following up the emails… I don’t think there was any encouragement,” he added.

The head of Sky News said he was unsure whether the journalist in the case of the Darwins pressed police to look into their email accounts. As for whether he would allow a journalist to do the same in the future, Ryley said “it’s very difficult to make a firm decision on a hypothetical story that might arise in the future.”

The news comes amidst turmoil at BSkyB and its related companies. Sky News is owned by BSkyB, which is currently already under investigation by Ofcom. The regulator is trying to decide whether BSkyB should even be allowed to hold a broadcasting licence.

News Corporation, which owns a controlling stake in BskyB, was recently accused of hacking rival ONDigital. However, NewsCorp denied the allegations made by BBC Panorama.

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