Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Could hacking be done in the 'public interest'?

With the horrid mess around the News of the World's 'hacking' of the voicemail of, inter alia, Milly Dowler I wondered aloud this morning (on Twitter) whether any hacking could be justified as being in the public interest.

IANAL, but I'd love to hear from a real one.

For example, suppose that a hacker broke into the network of News International (the parent company of News of the World), and downloaded the email boxes of senior executives and that those emails showed criminal behavior. Could the hacker's actions be considered to be in the public interest and he/she be provided with some protection from prosecution? It's not hard to imagine a situation in which the hacker does not delete information or disrupt business but simply copies emails.

It would seem to me that this would be a dangerous precedent because the hacker couldn't know a priori that what they were going to uncover criminal activity. But, as I say, IANAL.

Now what about a system administrator inside the company who quietly siphoned off the executives' email and made it available. This would seem to fall under whisteblower legislation.

Thoughts from lawyers?

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