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Royal Household "phone interception" - 3 arrests, including the News of the World 's "Royal correspondent"

"Phone interception" is back in the attention span of the mainstream news media, thanks to an official complaint from Clarence House i.e. from Prince Charles' staff.

The BBC reports that three men, including the News of the World's Royal correspondent, have all been arrested this morning under Section 1 of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000.

Despite the reporting on both the BBC and on Sky News (part of the same group who own the News of the World tabloid), this is not a serious crime, according to the current law:

(7) A person who is guilty of an offence under subsection (1) or (2) shall be liable- (a) on conviction on indictment, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years or to a fine, or to both;

(b) on summary conviction, to a fine not exceeding the statutory maximum.

According to Sky News, the complaints came back last December 2005, when 3 members of staff from complained about breaches of security of the Clarence House telephone system, "over a significant period of time", something which obviously has possible security implications for the safety of the Royal Family.

Sky News are now reporting that mobile phones are thought to be involved, and that other possible breaches of telephone privacy "at the homes of other public figures" are being investigated.

"An MP may have had their phone intercepted as well."

If true, this is far more serious than just a small scandal involving tape recordings or bugs or voice mail systems, physically located just within, say, Clarence House.

There are obvious comparisons to be made with the ongoing Vofafone mobile phone interception scandal in Greece.

The mention that a Member of Parliament may also have had his or her mobile phone intercepted means that the "Wilson Doctrine", must also be discussed.

We are awaiting the publication of the annual report by the outgoing Interception of Communications Commissioner, Rt Hon Sir Swinton Thomas (replaced from April 2006 by Rt Hon Sir Paul Kennedy), especially regard to his concerns about the "Wilson Doctrine" and the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, raised, perhaps not coincidentally, back in December last year.

This "Harold Wilson Doctrine" (do not be confused by search engine queries which pull up references to US President Woodrow Wilson's foreign policy after World War 1) is the promise not to intercept the phones of Members of Parliament, given to Parliament in 1968 by the then Prime Minister Harold Wilson. The policy has been re-affirmed by every Prime Minister since. There are many unaswered questions about this policy, since both communications technology, and the number of elected Parliaments and Assemblies has increased since then - are these all covered by the "Wilson Doctrine" or not ?

Many of the experts on the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act will be gathering next Monday 14th August, at University College , London, for the Scrambling for Safety 8 conference.

It is not just a matter of the privacy and security of the telecommunications of major Public Figures, which needs to be protected. All of us have this fundamental human right, which must be constantly protected not just from Big Brother / Nanny state petty officials, but also from private sector snoopers as well.

UPDATE - the Wednesday morning newspapers have a few more details, which prompt a few questions:

See the comments below, for different aspects and unofficial rumours and media reports, by unamed sources. Are these Royal sources or Police sources or Government spin doctors ?

Questions raised by these reports:

  1. Are the the two other, as yet unamed people arrested, also journalists, or are they currrent or former staff working in a position of trust within a Mobile Phone Network ?

  2. Which Mobile Phone Network(s) is/are involved ?

  3. Is the Interception of Communications Commissioner, Rt Hon Sir Paul Kennedy going to investigate ? Or will he claim, that since interception by a UK Police or Intelligence Agency does not appear to be involved, he does not have the power, under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act to investigate ? Will this be left to other Commissioners ?

  4. Is Ofcom, the mobile phone (and other) telecomms industry regulator going to investigate the management of the Mobile Phone Network involved, and review their operating licence accordingly, if there are found to be management or supervision failures ?

  5. Were Mobile Phone Network core systems compromised through illegal database access ?

  6. Was "sophisticated" over the air interception equipment used, as is supposedly being used against the Mobile Phones of British troops in Iraq ?

  7. The initial reports seem to be playing down the chances of actual real time voice call interceptions. Is this true or is this spin ?

  8. Were SMS text messages copied or read whilst in the store and forward system in transit ?

  9. Were network Voice Mailbox messages copied and listened to, without alerting the legitimate users i.e. was the "New messages" flag evaded ?

  10. Were such Voicemail messages restricted to old, already listened to meassages, which had not been deleted, but which simply had been accessed via the default Password or PIN ? Was there an attemt to actually dictionary attack or guess such a Password or PIN ?

  11. Were mobile camera phone Multimedia Message Service (MMS) photo or video clip, either of, or taken by, the Royal Family, also being accessed by the News of the World ?

  12. What about the Location Based Services data i.e. the near real time physical locations of these mobile phones, derivded from the Mobile Phone transmission mast locations ? Was the physical location of Prince Charles or his sons, and therby potentially their physical security, put at risk, by tracking their mobile phones or those of their Clarence House staff ?

  13. If the vague reports that a Member of Parliament, even Cabinet Minsisters may also be victims of thisalleged snooping, will a Parliamentary Committee investigate, and also review the "Wilson Doctrine" ?

  14. Will any of tomorrow's mainstream media even bother to ask any of the questions above, or will they just recycle the Squidgygate or Camillagate stories, which involved analogue not digital mobile phones ?


The Times (like the The News of the World and Sky News, all owned by Rupert Murdoch's News International), reports:


As the trio were being interviewed by police yesterday there were claims that the investigations had spread beyond Clarence House and that possible victims included ministers, an MP, military chiefs, a leading media figure and celebrities.

Officers have not ruled out the possibility that other Royal Households, including Buckingham Palace, could have had their phones intercepted.


Police have consulted lawyers at the Crown Prosecution Service and mobile telephone networks.

The Vodafone scandal in Greece, involved around a hundred mobile phones of the Prime Minister, Cabinet members, military chiefs, journalists, Muslim businessmen etc. had their mobile phone handsets illegally added to a conference calling service, on 14 or so "phantom" handsets, using the built in Law Enforcement phone tapping software at the telephone exchanges, developed by the mobile phone equipment manaufacturer Ericsson, installed for the Athens Olympic Games security.

That would be one way of intercepting the phone conversations, but it would require corruption or coercion of insiders with the the requisite Mobile Phone Network systems access.

The Daily Telegraph claims that:


It is understood that the allegations relate to the interception of mobile phones, rather than landlines. Details of the Prince of Wales's travel arrangements were allegedly obtained.

The investigation has now extended beyond Clarence House and detectives believe that other public figures - thought to include an MP - have been targeted.


Sources said the allegations did not relate to the tapping of live telephone calls but the intercepting of text and voice messages.


SMS text messages in transit and Voice Mailbox sound samples could be accessed by people within a Mobile Phone Network with access (legal or illegal) to various database systems, rather than the actual radio transmission systems used to transmit the voice or data in "real time".

What about Location Based Services ? Was the near real time physical location of the Prince of Wales or his sons Harry and William also compromised directly or indirectly e.g. by tracking the location of Clarence House staff mobile phones ?

Were any Multi Media Messages i.e. photos or video clips taken of or by the Royal Family and sent via the mobile camera phones also being snooped on ?

The Daily Mail claims:


It is thought messages from Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall to senior courtiers were among those intercepted by the News of the World.

Sources last night said leading members of the Cabinet, top footballers and leading showbusiness figures had also been victims of the scam over the past few years


A senior journalist at the News of the World - royal editor Clive Goodman - was arrested on Tuesday by police following a highly-sensitive Scotland Yard probe lasting several weeks.

Two other journalists linked to the paper were also arrested by police.

It is claimed Mr Goodman listened to dozens of messages left by senior courtiers at the Palace.


A security source said: 'Detectives believe there has been a concerted and deliberate campaign to eavesdrop on highly confidential telephone messages at Buckingham Palace.

'The aim was to find out some of the most personal and potentially damaging details about royal life.

'A number of senior members of the Cabinet also had their phone messages intercepted.'


If this Daily Mail report is to be believed, and the other two people arrested are "journalists" rather than current or former not working Mobile Phone Network staff, then are such people still in place, selling out our privacy and national security ?

It is of course, possible to listen to Mobile Phone Voice Mail messages, if the Default Password is not changed or it is easily guessed, and old messages which have been listened to, are not deleted immediately.

The same applies to landline based Answering Machines and Voicemail systems.

We await further details, which, no doubt, will be gleefully sought by the rval media (and any bloggers witth confidential informants).

Despite the obvious reluctance of Prince Charles or the Police to comment on an ongoing criminal case, there is a massive public imterest in knowing wether or not the core Mobile Phone Networks have been had their security and privacy compromised, or not.

There should be a public statement on this matter by especially if, the scandal affects a wider circle of people than just some of the Royal Family.

The Interception of Communications Commissioner Rt Hon Sir Paul Kennedy must investigate.

Ofcam, the Mobile Phone industry regulators must also investigate and reassure the public that there is no systemic secuity failings and management bad practices in the Mobile Phone Network(s) involved.

According to The Times:

Clive Goodman, 48, from Putney, South London, the royal editor of the News of the World, and Glenn Mulcaire, 35, a former Wimbledon footballer who runs a crisis management company, have been charged with offences of plotting to intercept communciatons.

They have been bailed to appear at Horseferry Road Magistrates’ Court next Wednesday. A 50-year-old man was released on bail on Wednesday.

Glenn "Trigger" Mulcaire's company is/was called Nine Consultancy, and is described, according to various Wimbledon AFC club/match reports as either a "crisis management consultancy" or as a "confidential counter-intelligence company"

I heard that the voice messages were tapped by ringing up a number and pressing the right buttons to listen to the landline voice messages that had been recorded and that this could therefore be done to anyone who the newspaper knows the number of. source BBC radio 4 I think.

@ Max - what are the "right buttons" ?

The default voicemail PINs do not allow access to, say, Vodafone or Orange voicemail boxes from landlines or from other mobile phones, until those defaults have been changed.

Can any readers confirm that this is also true on T-mobile, Virgin, O2 and Three ?

Obviously a 4 digit PIN (Vodafone) can have all the 10,000 possible Personal Identification Numbers "brute forced", but surely this would show up as "suspicious activity" on the network (Orange allow a 4 to 10 digit PIN)

Surely voicemail accesses from remote phones show up in monthly itemised phone bills ?

That is why we are stil very suspicious and want to be re-assured that no corrupt insiders or IT systems vulnerabilities of the as yet unnamed mobile phone networks, are involved in this scandal.

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