UK operators blamed for phone hacking failings

A UK parliamentary committee condemned Orange, T-Mobile and Vodafone for failing to alert subscribers that their handsets could have been hacked by rogue journalists working for News International, the News Corp. subsidiary at the heart of the phone hacking scandal that has convulsed the UK.

The report, drafted by the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee, blames the scandal, which has now ensnared the UK police force, senior politicians and newspaper editors, on a breakdown in communications between the police and mobile operators. This, according to the report, lead to subscribers not being informed that their voicemail might have been illegally accessed until two years after the responsible journalist in the case was jailed.

The report says that it would seem impossible to uncover what went wrong in 2006 when the first voicemail hackings came to light, with a senior policeman accepting that communications between the police force and mobile operators were not being followed up properly.

"The companies cannot escape criticism completely. Neither Vodafone nor Orange UK/T-Mobile UK showed the initiative of O2 in asking the police whether such contact would interfere with investigations," the report said.

"Vodafone at least sent out generalised reminders about security, (Orange UK and T-Mobile UK may not even have done this), they [Vodafone] tightened their procedures, but they made no effort to contact the customers affected," added the committee report.

O2 UK was recognised as being alone in having proactively attempted to inform its customers to the vulnerability.

It would now appear that, while 170 mobile phone users have been informed that their voicemails have been illegally accessed, there are around 13,000 subscribers that have yet to be informed.

One finding by the committee was that the operators' "failure of care to their customers [was] astonishing, not least because all the companies told us that they had good working relationships with the police on the many occasions on which the police have to seek information from them to help in their inquiries."

For more:
- see this UK government report (PDF)

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