Phone and 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 2018.
Email hacking is usually an offence under the Computer Misuse Act 1990 and/or the Data Protection Act 2018.
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 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
A successful claimant will normally also be entitled to recover their legal costs from an opponent.
I suspect one my devices/accounts have been hacked, but cannot prove it
In these situations, we cannot offer immediate assistance. We recommend that you speak with a reputable IT/technical expert in the first instance and allow them to examine your device(s). If they are able to identify that a specific individual has gained unauthorised access, then you should contact us to arrange a consultation. In many instances, there will be an alternative (often innocent) explanation.
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.
Private/confidential information can be disclosed in more subtle or direct ways (e.g. by email or in the internet). Moreover, phone hacking or email hacking does not necessarily need to result in the publication of a news article for there to be viable claim. The mere accessing of information may give rise to a claim.
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?
In short, to ensure that you have the best team fighting for you and to maximize your prospects of success. Privacy law is novel and complex and it is generally ill-advised to instruct non-specialist lawyers. Our work and client care is of the highest standard. All cases are run by a specialist privacy solicitor. Every matter has partner involvement. If there is a good settlement to be negotiated, we are confident we are well placed to achieve it. If there is a case to be litigated, we are confident we can help you seek the best result.
We have long-standing working relationships with the best media law QCs and junior barristers, whom we can draft into the team to represent you in court if the need arises.
As well as being listed in the prestigious Legal 500 directory as a leading firm in the field of defamation law and privacy law, every solicitor in the media law department is recommended by the directory. Equally, the firm is ranked as a leading firm by Chambers & Partners for defamation and reputation management work, with Iain Wilson, Max Campbell and Tom Double individually recognised. Most importantly, we receive excellent feedback from our clients and contemporaries.
Litigation can be stressful, time consuming and costly. Therefore at the outset of your case we will conduct a cost benefit analysis with you. We will talk you through this process. We offer honest and pragmatic advice to our clients. We will always consider alternative options, including asserting other causes of action (such as harassment and defamation), approaching intermediaries or PR work.
How do I instruct Brett Wilson LLP?
The first step is to attend a preliminary consultation. At the consultation we will advise you on the merits of any claim, talk through the relevant practical and legal issues, and set out your options. We will review relevant documentation ahead of the consultation. The consultation will help you understand your position and allow you to make an informed decision about what action to take.
Consultations take place in our London offices or by Skype/telephone. We can also travel to you.
To request a consultation please send us an email, complete our online enquiry form or call us on 020 3468 2645. If emailing or using the online form, please provide a short outline of your situation.
Details of the cost of a consultation will be provided following your enquiry.