Paras 3 and 4: This is why the unfolding scandal of police hacking journalists’ phones matters. Like the media phone-hacking scandal that led to the Leveson inquiry, it offers a glimpse into an abuse of power that doubtless involves far more victims. Phone hacking arose when private detectives realised that new technology allowed them to hack into the voicemails of victims. With police hacking, the bobbies worked out that new technology and new laws let them ask for the phone records of any journalist — they no longer had to go through the tiresome ritual of asking ‘Who’s your source?’ and being told to get stuffed. They could just grab the journalists’ phone records and work it out for themselves.

The first such case that came to light involved Tom Newton Dunn, political editor of the Sun. The Metropolitan Police wanted the name of one of his contacts, and knew better than to ask. So they ordered Vodafone to hand over his phone records. Vodafone obliged: under the law, it has to.

The linked definition implies that the police were devious enough (probably NOT moral in this case) NOT to ask the Sun for the name. Yet then why did then order Vodafone? Isn't ordering a hostile form of asking? Strictly according to the passage, I had thought that the writer was implying that the next step is subversive hacking, not to use a legal order.

  • "Subversive hacking" is better called "cracking", as in "safe-cracking". Calling a cracker a "hacker" is insulting to the honorable, capable programmers who have earned the title "hacker". "Phreaking" is a more specific word for "cracking" telephone systems and voice-mail. hackersdictionary.com/html/entry/cracker.html hackersdictionary.com/html/entry/cracker.html hackersdictionary.com/html/entry/phreaking.html
    – Jasper
    Oct 12, 2014 at 16:57
  • So many of your questions, @LePressentiment, have to do with doubts created in your mind by the very brief definitions found in "pocket dictionaries" (that happen to be found online now in web versions). You would do well to consult a better dictionary, the kind in which the lexicographers might very well have devoted a full page to a word that is given a five-word definition in these pocket dictionaries.
    – TimR
    Oct 12, 2014 at 21:16
  • For example, even Oxford in its online pocket dictionary introduces a concept in its definition that is sure to send you down another rabbit hole: "Be wise or polite enough to avoid doing a particular thing:". Since the police asked Vodafone, weren't they being polite?
    – TimR
    Oct 12, 2014 at 21:26

2 Answers 2


An order is not a “hostile form of asking”: to ask for records, in any tone of voice, is a request which may be refused, and the police in this case were “wise enough” to know that if they asked they would be refused—“told to get stuffed”. Instead they ordered Vodafone to produce the records, a form of legally enforceable demand which cannot be refused.

As for your expectation that “the next step is subversive hacking”, I think you have been misled by the author’s confusion of two different activities under the rhetorical label “hacking”.

... the unfolding scandal of police hacking journalists’ phones ... the media phone-hacking scandal ...

The police activity described in the article, obtaining access to phone records, is lawful, at least for the time being; the media activity, obtaining access to actual messages, is not. This confusion appears to be deliberate, since the author later distinguishes the two:

Our police cannot (legally) hack actual communications, just our telephone records ...

The confusion may be technically defeasible, given that the author’s central argument is that the lawful powers accorded the police present the same sort of grave threat to personal privacy as unlawful hacking by private detectives and media; but it’s still pretty cheesy.


The police "knew better than to ask [the journalist directly]" because they'd already been through "the tiresome ritual of asking 'Who's your source?' and being told to get stuffed" on many previous occasions. So, they resorted to the so-called "police hacking", that is, using a law that allows them to simply "grab the journalists' phone records and work it out for themselves", which is really a violation of the journalist's privacy rights (since the journalist has committed no crime) and an abuse of the power of the law that allows them to demand phone logs.

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