Tag Archives: liberty

High court ruling ‘not a complete loss’ for Jon Gaunt, says Liberty

Legal office for human rights group Liberty, who backed Jon Gaunt’s high court appeal against an Ofcom ruling that said he breached the broadcasting code, argues on Index on Censorship that the high court’s decision was not a complete loss for the “shock jock”.

Gaunt lost his appeal against the industry regulator, which censured him last year for calling local councillor Michael Stark a “health nazi” in an interview about children in care.

Corrina Ferguson from Liberty says the high court has laid down some important principles with regards to freedom of expression, but failed to follow its own rules:

It is difficult to understand why calling someone a Nazi once (and in a measured tone) could be deserving of the highest protection as political speech, but saying it again with more force is not protected at all. There are of course limits on free speech and it would be nonsensical to protect absolutely one person’s right to speak freely when it would have a grave impact on the rights of others – incitement to murder being an obvious example. But there is no right not to be offended.

It is very much hoped that this aspect of the judgment will be improved upon in the Court of Appeal. There is a real danger that allowing the regulator to intervene in this type of case will have chilling effect on robust political interviews. The Human Rights Act protects shock jocks as much as flagship political commentators and free speech is no more worthy with extra syllables.

Full post on Index on Censorship…

Jon Gaunt wins permission for high court challenge

Shock jock Jon Gaunt has won permission to bring a high court challenge against Ofcom’s decision to uphold complaints about an interview in which he called a councillor a “ignorant pig” and “health nazi”.

In May 2009, Gaunt – who had been sacked by radio station TalkSPORT in November 2008 – was censured by Ofcom for the comments made to Michael Stark in an interview about children in care.

Gaunt, backed by the human rights charity Liberty, argues that his right to freedom of expression was infringed by the Ofcom decision.

A written application for judicial review was earlier refused, a decision Gaunt’s lawyers believe was an “error”. Ofcom said it was the “correct” decision.

Following today’s court decision that Gaunt could take the challenge to the high court, a spokesperson from Ofcom said:

“The judge made it clear he was not making a decision on the case but simply referring it to a full hearing because it met the low threshold of arguability.”

Martin Howe, Jon Gaunt’s solicitor, said that the case was “ground breaking”.

“The outcome of this case will determine our understanding of the right to freedom of speech for a generation. The outcome of this case will determine if Britain’s airwaves will be allowed to remain a free and exciting medium able to engage in open and honest debate or will become a grey and timid desert.”

Background story at this link…

Tapping/hacking/blagging – the terminology

Media reports refer to both ‘phone tapping’ and ‘phone hacking’ when discussing the Guardian’s investigation into the use of private investigators by News International journalists.

But what exactly were the PI activities alleged to have taken place at the request of journalists?

Phone hacking. This is the term the Guardian uses in its reports, which includes a number of alleged activities. It reported: “Hacking into messages on mobile phones is covered by the same law which now regulates phone tapping and other forms of covert information-gathering, the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, known as RIPA.” There is no public interest defence for breaking this law. Activities alleged by the Guardian include:

  • Hacking into mobile phone voicemail accounts, the crime NOTW journalist Clive Goodman and private investigator Glenn Mulcaire were convicted for in 2007.
  • Illegal hacking ‘into the mobile phone messages of numerous public ¬≠figures to gain unlawful access to confidential personal data, including tax records, social security files, bank statements and itemised phone bills’.

Guardian tech editor Charles Arthur describes how, in further detail at this link, voicemail hacking can be done very simply – via the four digit pin code.

  • However, new methods could now be in use by PIs (no specific allegations made). Arthur quotes a senior security analyst at McAfee: ‘a number of products [are] out there which claim that they will let you listen to someone’s mobile conversations, forward their SMSs and tell you the numbers they have dialled’.
  • In addition, Arthur reports, ‘it might be feasible to clone the connection between a Bluetooth headset and phone so an eavesdropper could connect to the phone while its owner was briefly out of earshot. A hacker could get numbers and contact information’.

Phone tapping. Assistant commissioner for the Metropolitan Police, John Yates, in his statement yesterday, referred to the Mulcaire and Goodman case. He said:

  • “Our inquiries found that these two men had the ability to illegally intercept mobile phone voice mails, commonly known as phone tapping.”

However, the term ‘tapping’ can also indicate other kinds of interception of communications systems e.g wire tapping / obtaining post. In this BBC Q&A from 2006 it is stated that there are three ways a mobile phone can be tapped:

“This can be done either at the handset, or during the conversation – which is illegal and very expensive – or through the mobile phone company which connects the device.”

Blagging. The Guardian reports that this could include obtaining access to confidential databases, such as telephone accounts, bank records and information held by the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Authority, which is covered by a different law, the 1998 Data Protection Act: “Section 55 makes it an offence to gain unauthorised access to such data, punishable by a fine. However, unlike RIPA, this offence carries a public interest defence.”

The Guardian reports on a series of ‘dark arts’ methods used by PIs, including:

  • Obtaining ex-directory landlines, tax records, social security files, bank statements, mobile numbers, people’s addresses or people’s phone bills and medical records.
  • Conning BT, the DVLA, mobile phone companies and other organisations into handing over private details.

Theregister.co.uk: Liberty challenges Observer article on mobile operators

The Register reports that civil rights group Liberty has ‘rubbished’ a story in Sunday’s Observer, which said that the group was approached by several UK mobile operators in an attempt to win its public support for their data protection policies. Liberty told The Register that if such an approach had been made it would have been rejected on principle.