NZ Herald calls political hacking “common theft” and claims it is “relatively minor”. They are wrong on the first count and I think they are also wrong on the second.
In Editorial: Hager raid an intimidatory over-reaction the Herald voices a concern I share:
The effect of such raids is to intimidate such people from approaching media to disclose uncomfortable truths.
The raid on Nicky Hager’s home may be over the top police action and raises valid concerns about freedom of expression for journalists – but we don’t know many details apart from Hager’s side of the story so it’s difficult to judge how much of a concern at this stage.
While the heading promotes this concern the paragraph quoted above is well down the editorial.
I disagree with something in particular the editorial repeats – they talk down the severity of the hacking of Cameron Slater’s private data, possibly for political purposes and used by Hager for political purposes.
In response to a complaint of theft – common old theft – five police officers spent the best part of a day searching the Hager home and taking away everything from computers to an iPod. Not because Hager was considered a “suspect” but because he could be a “witness” to the crime.
The Herald unquestioningly promotes Hager’s version of the raid, and refers to the hacking as “common old theft”. The Rawshark hacking and subsequent use of data to try and defeat the Government in an election campaign is far from ‘common” and it isn’t even theft.
The Ministry of Justice refers to “unauthorised access to a computer system (hacking)” – that’s as I understand it. Copying data is not theft. And Findlaw describes the two offences that Rawshark could be investigated for:
Accessing computer system for dishonest purpose
The Bill creates a new offence of accessing a computer system for a dishonest purpose. Anyone who accesses a computer system and dishonestly, or by deception, either:
obtains some form of property or advantage; or
causes loss to any person;
can be sentenced to up to 7 years imprisonment.
Anyone who accesses a computer system with intent to either cause loss or obtain property is liable for up to 5 years imprisonment.
Accessing a computer system without authorisation
Accessing a computer system without authorisation will become a new crime punishable by up to 2 years imprisonment. This new provision is intended to cover “hacking”.
The new offence will catch a range of cyber crimes that have recently featured in the news, including stealing credit card information from Web sites, industrial espionage, the unauthorised transfer of funds from company bank accounts, and the destruction of data by hackers or disgruntled employees.
Not theft, and not common old theft, new laws were created specifically for hacking type crimes. The Herald should know basics like this, but apparently not:
A complaint of theft had been made and Hager had been identified as the eventual user of the stolen material.
If every theft complaint made to police resulted in this kind of response, searches under warrants of houses and businesses would be constant and not much else would be achieved by our constabulary.
The theft complaint was made by Whale Oil blogger Cameron Slater.
It is unlikely anyone else reporting a theft would have resulted in the police raiding the receiver of the stolen property quite so readily.
Apart from the fact that it isn’t theft I’m sure the police readily raid suspected receivers of stolen property quite often.
The editorial concludes:
It would be good if that judge took a stand for freedom of expression. He or she will not be deciding whether the hacking was a crime, just whether the police treatment of Hager and his sources can be justified in the pursuit of that relatively minor criminal offence.
It’s important to determine “whether the police treatment of Hager and his sources can be justified”. If it is more intimidatory than investigative then I’ll have serious concerns.
But referring to it as “a relatively minor criminal offence” is an interesting judgement, considering the hacking of Slater and the use of his data to attempt to bring down the Government is unprecedented.
If political hacking was deemed not worthy of investigation by the police where could that lead us? I think it’s a serious threat to our democracy.
Of course what the Herald doesn’t say is media organisations like the Herald can make headlines if they are provided with hacked data.
While the Herald is not openly encouraging hacking they are trying to depict it as trivial and theft. They’re wrong on both counts.
And the Herald also doesn’t disclose that they are also the recipient of data hacked from Slater. They have a vested interest in encouraging the police to ignore this offence that is deemed serious enough to have a seven year maximum sentence.
The possible intimidating of journalists is a serious issue.
I think political hacking is also a serious issue. The playing down of hacking as minor may be in the Herald’s own interests but I don’t think their self interested stance is good for democracy at all.