The ICO reports that re-emerged this week – What Price Privacy? and What Price Privacy Now? (source) – make for fascinating reading; they outline the widespread use of blagging and/or blaggers by many newspapers and magazines.
Influential, independent online media channels (and alliances of same) have started to form recently, so I think the question is worth asking of leading bloggers; where do we each stand on the matter of blagging?
To blag is to obtain something by trick or deception; in the ICO reports (and in this post) it is mainly used to describe the practice of obtaining personal data (current address, details of car ownership, an ex-directory telephone number, records of calls made, bank account details, etc.) by deceiving the source(s) of that data about your identity and/or your intentions for that data.
There are circumstances in which it is possible to blag some data within the law (just), but this does not mean that all blagging is legal (and/or just a little bit of cheeky PI work). We have as yet seen no ‘public interest’ defence for any examples of blaggers breaking the law, and even their bending it for personal gain (rather than for anything that might be in the public interest) raises major questions about ethics, especially for the following newspapers/magazines, presented here in order of their indicated fondness for blagging services (according to the ICO’s findings during Operation Motorman):
Daily Mail [952, 58] – Sunday People [802, 50]] – Daily Mirror [681, 45] – Mail on Sunday [266, 33] – News of the World [228, 23] – Sunday Mirror [143, 25] – Best Magazine [134, 20] – Evening Standard [130, 1] – The Observer [103, 4] – Daily Sport [62, 4] – The People [37, 19] – Daily Express [36, 7] – Weekend Magazine (Daily Mail) [30, 4] – Sunday Express [29, 8] – The Sun [24, 4] – Closer Magazine [22, 5] – Sunday Sport [15, 1] – Night and Day (Mail on Sunday) [9, 2] – Sunday Business News [8, 1] – Daily Record [7, 2] – Saturday (Express) [7, 1] – Sunday Mirror Magazine [6, 1] – Real Magazine [4, 1] – Woman’s Own [4, 2] – The Sunday Times [4, 1] – Daily Mirror Magazine [3, 2] – Mail in Ireland [3, 1] – Daily Star [2, 4] – The Times [2, 1] – Marie Claire [2, 1] – Personal Magazine [1, 1] – Sunday World [1, 1]
[Publication name is followed by the number of blagging transactions positively identified during Operation Motorman, and the number of journalists/clients from that publication using those blagging services. I must stress that this chart is based on limited evidence, and if the full picture came to light, it could change some if not all rankings considerably. To be as fair as possible to all concerned, it is probably best to consider this a list rather than a chart, which is why I’ve presented it in this way. Yes, this list includes the Observer, a sister title to the Guardian, as News International were keen to point out.]
This list – resulting from some tip-of-the-iceberg evidence – is your first hint why the McBride/Draper scheme was all over the papers but this News of The World matter involving widespread blagging is/was not.
There are also some bloggers who are paid for their contributions to one or more of these publications and, regardless of any political alignment to Andy Coulson, they just may not want to chomp down too hard on the hands that feed them.
But bloggers need to take a clear stand against blagging, or one day there’ll be a list just like this one made up of weblogs.
Especially in absence of a public interest defence, if you have no right to private data, you’ve got no business poking around for it by deceiving those who hold it.
We can all agree on that, yes?
Or, for all that talk, are we no better than the worst of ‘dead tree’ press?
(I’d be particularly interested in the current position of Phil Hendren, who once blagged my ex-directory number before publishing it on his site, and/or any blogger currently aligned with MessageSpace, who were today asked how they obtained my personal data and responded with a firm “no comment”)