Phone / Email Hacking
Have you been the victim of phone hacking? If so, we can help you seek redress.
It is now known that phone hacking has taken place on an industrial scale at several national newspapers over the past 20 years. The targets of phone hacking have not just been celebrities; they have also been individuals going about their everyday lives who have happened to had some connection to a news story of the day.
Phone hacking is a method of journalists obtaining 'inside information' about a story by accessing a victim's voicemail messages without their consent or knowledge. The victim is at a loss as to how the story had broken, often mistrusting friends and family members.
Phone hacking is a gross violation of an individual's privacy which at the very least results in them losing autonomy over their private information. Phone hacking and the articles published on the back of it can cause a huge amount of distress, anxiety and embarrassment. In extreme cases phone hacking has led to paranoia, broken friendships and illness.
What is phone hacking?
Contrary to the impression given by the name, there is normally nothing complicated about phone hacking. Since the early days of mobile phones, it has been possible to access a mobile phone’s voicemails remotely from a landline, by the entering the relevant telephone number and a PIN (personal identification number). Many mobile phone users were unaware of the facility, did not change their PIN number from the factory default setting and/or chose a PIN that was easy to guess (e.g. 1234). Unscrupulous journalists, or private investigators in their employ, would dial in from a landline, try the default PIN, or guess it, and then have access to voicemails. The voicemails would often provide source material for news articles. In some instances, journalists are believed to have telephoned mobile phone companies impersonating users in order to re-set PINs and access voicemails.
What is email hacking?
Email hacking can be more sophisticated (e.g. the installation of keystroke software and/or the deployment of Trojan horses), although it often occurs where a third party has become aware of or guesses an individual’s password, or where the victim forgets to log out of a computer. Most email systems have a web-based portal (e.g. Hotmail, Gmail) and thus email can be accessed remotely. Emails, including ‘deleted’/’trash’ and ‘sent items’ contain a vast amount of private and confidential information that can form the source of a newspaper article.
How is phone/email hacking unlawful?
Phone hacking will normally amount to a criminal offence under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (‘RIPA’) and/or the Data Protection Act 1998.
Email hacking is usually an offence under the Computer Misuse Act 1990 and/or the Data Protection Act 1998.
For the purposes of enforcing personal rights in the civil courts (e.g. seeking compensation), phone hacking will normally constitute a misuse of personal information, breach of confidence and/or a breach of an individual’s rights under the General Data Protection Regulation (‘GDPR’)/Data Protection Act 2018. Older cases may also give rise to claims under the Data Protection Act 1998.
What redress am I entitled to if I have been a victim of hacking?
Principally compensation, but if there is evidence of an ongoing risk of further hacking then you may also be entitled to an injunction (a court order prohibiting certain conduct).
In practice, where the evidence of phone hacking is indisputable lawyers will normally negotiate the settlement of a claim. The owners of both The Mirror and The News of the World have set aside compensation funds to deal with such claims.
What am I entitled to compensation for?
The recent landmark case of Gulati & Ors v MGN Limited  EWHC 1482 highlights the seriousness of phone hacking. The High Court considered a number of sample cases and set out factors to be considered when awarding compensation for the misuse of private information. These include:-
- The loss of autonomy/infringement itself
- The extent of the hacking
- The number of resultant newspaper articles
- Consequential distress, embarrassment and anxiety caused by the hacking/articles
- The exacerbation of any pre-existing medical condition or sensitivity
- The defendant’s conduct
The normal rule in litigation is that the unsuccessful party is ordered to pay most of the successful party’s legal costs. Thus, if your claim is successful the bulk of your legal costs can be recovered from your opponent.
Often a victim will have been told by the police that they have been the victim of phone hacking. Where this is the case or there is other clear evidence of phone hacking by a major newspaper or news organisation, it is likely that we will be willing to act for you on a Conditional Fee Agreement (‘CFA’ – sometimes referred to as a ‘no win, no fee agreement’). Where there is insufficient evidence of phone hacking (e.g. you simply suspect it has occurred), then normally we would require you to instruct us on a normal upfront fee-paying basis in the first instance. If we subsequently obtained clear evidence of phone hacking then we may then be able to offer you a CFA.
Please note that we cannot act for you on a legal aid basis.
I believe I have been the victim of phone hacking, but have no evidence. How can you help?
We can advise you on your options and, if appropriate, liaise with the police, phone companies and other third parties on your behalf. The High Court has the power to make Norwich Pharmacol Orders requiring such third parties to disclose relevant information. The costs of this work can normally be recovered from the defendant if a viable claim is established.
Do I need to have been hacked by someone working for the News of the World or The Mirror to seek compensation?
No, the law equally applies to any organisation or individual.
Indeed, phone hacking or email hacking does not necessarily need to result in the publication of a news article for there to be viable claim. Private/confidential information can be disclosed in more subtle or direct ways (e.g. by email or in the internet).
Claims against individuals or small organisation may not be commercially viable if they do not have the assets to meet pay any award for compensation or legal costs.
Why should I instruct Brett Wilson LLP?
Brett Wilson LLP is uniquely placed to deal with phone hacking cases as we specialise in both privacy and criminal law. The firm is listed in the Legal 500 in both defamation/privacy and criminal law.
The firm’s defamation/privacy department is headed up by Iain Wilson, described by the prestigious Chambers and Partners directory as “…an absolute expert in his field…confident and extremely knowledgeable“. Iain regularly writes on privacy matters, including in the Law Society Gazette and Halsbury’s Law Exchange, and edits Westlaw Insight’s privacy chapter.