ReadNotify tracking journalists and their sources, or being used for disinformation ?
Following on from our updated Home Office whistleblowers hints and tips, here is an example of the use being made by the attempted "web bug" tracking of emails, apparently using the same Australian ReadNotify email tracking service which was used unsuccessfully by Hewlett Packard to try to spy on journalists and its own executives and insiders.
[ via Martin Ingram, Welcome To The Dark Side. ]
(N.B. the original blog post "The IPCC leak and the Sunday Times story." seems to have been unpublished, but it is still out there in the Bloglines syndication feed cache)
However, we are not convinced that the supposed screenshots from the ReadNotify service do actually reveal any hidden relationship between a Sunday Times journalist and somone in the Independent Police Complaints Commission, in regard to "leaks" etc. about the investigation into the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes, at Stockwell Tube station in the panic after the bomb attacks and attempted bomb attacks in London in July 2005.
See the Smoke & Mirrors blog:
The email details of Liam Clarke, the Sunday Times journalist seem plausible enough::
via a corporate internet gateway at News International, part of Rupert Murdoch's media empire which owns the Sunday Times newspaper:
Web browser User Agent: Moz/4.0 (MSIE 6.0; WinNT 5.1; SRV1;), implying the probable use of Windows XP computer.
Reader # 5 looks a bit suspicious
UPDATE 1st November 2006: see comment by John below, which rightly points out the missing "s" in the email address, i.e. collin rather than collin which casts further doubt on this entry.
Just in case these images disappear from the original blog, here is a copy:
- click for a larger image.
Rachael Collins is a Press Officer for the IPCC, whose contact details appear at the bottom of several IPCC Press releases e.g . 22 September 2005, For Immediate Release, IPCC Concludes Andrew Kernan Case:
Rachael Collins, IPCC Press Officer on 020 7166 3142 or the out-of-hours duty press officer on 07717 851157.
Independent Police Complaints Commission
90 High Holborn
Tel: 020 7166 3142
This is not normal for UK Government Secure Intranet (.gsi.gov.uk) users, who pop out of various Energis gateways to the internet.
e.g. gateway-201.energis.gsi.gov.uk [184.108.40.206]
GSI emails are also filtered for spam and viruses etc. by the third party Messagelabs service.
Why would an email, allegedly read at 08:48 (British Summer Time) on the 16th June 2006, a Friday, have been read on a computer system which is brreaking the rules for being connected to the Government Secure Intranet, by using AOL, without using a secure Virtual Private Network and firewall etc., which would have prevented the ReadNotify service from tracking the "web bugged" email.
Web browser User Agent: Moozilla
This is not normal for AOL users !
We suspect that even if the ReadNotify screenshots are genuine, that does not mean that the Rachael Collins IPCC entry is real, and so the whole foundation of this Smoke and Mirrors blog story seems to be suspect.
However, even if this were all genuine, what would this ReadNotify stuff actually show ?
It supposedly shows that an email with a hidden "web bug" graphic (and / orby use of an initial email read receipt etc.) , tracked by the ReadNotify service, was sent to several email addresses on 3rd June 2006, and that about half a dozen of the recipienst, either directly, or after having had the email forwarded on to them complete with the "web bug", insecurely read the email in HTML format, displaying the hidden graphic, allowing ReadNotify to sneakily glean some information about the proxy server gateway and the web browser which was used to read the email.
What relevance these June 2006 emails have to a Sunday Times story printed in January 2006 is a mystery.
Even if these ReadNotify screenshots did show that a Press Officer and a Journalist were in email contact with each other, which they do not, then so what - isn't that part of their normal activities ?
We remain sceptical of this "scoop", but it is an illustration of the dangers for journalists, bloggers and whistleblowers.