I've been thinking a lot about this. When people get involved in organisations, whether it be for work or otherwise, there isn't an ongoing consciousness about whether conduct or actions are legal or not. Those involved with activity for a broader aim, either trying to create a better world or working towards a value such as the freedom of expression, the law maybe a simply secondary consideration. There are some situations that where I might even agree with such an analysis. In my younger years I was no stranger to direct action on issues like apartheid or the peace movement.Reading this article about Ben Ashford and who while working for the Sun he picked up a phone examined the contents and "produced an 18-page dossier for his London bosses containing details of “saucy messages” and “X-rated photos” exchanged between the owner and a TV personality who cannot be named." He was instructed by his empoyers to make a "detailed search".
A large part of the article is focussed on the impact that the subsequent prosecution has had on Ben Ashford. Of course it is no surprising that journalists might be sympathetic to one another. Whether another individual that had handled another persons property which was obtained from someone they knew not to be the owner of the property would have been dealt with in the same way is questionable. A large part of the article deals with the impact that the prosecution has had on Ben ashford with little if any consideration on the impact that his action had on the owner of the phone.
In the article Ben Ashford is reported as saying that senior staff at the Sun knew about the iPhone and he “trusted they knew what they were doing”. His defence is one that I know others in a number of other organisations have used too. It consists of, "I trust the people more senior to me and they wouldn't do something or instruct me to do something unlawful". Other individuals who have used the defence, perhaps a driver who has been forced by his employer to drive over his regulated driving hours, or a estates staff at a care facility who is asked to restrain a patient without having clinical training on restraint are unlikely to be treated sympathetically if things go wrong.
The article illustrates how little the profession has learnt from phone hacking. Generally the law does take a stand that individuals are responsible for their actions and should be held to account for them. Those close to me will be aware about my own issues relating to criminal activity and breeches of my and others personal privacy. The consequence of this is that I am more keen to encourage others to be responsible for their actions.
However it's not just journalism that is under scrutiny. In time of austerity, more and more public services are taking dificult decisions with little time for checks and balances even for what is lawful. The real question is does any one care and who should be caring?