MY investigative activities as a journalist have rarely extended beyond seeking the answer to such burning questions as “Where did I put my pencil?” (to which the answer was usually “It’s behind your ear”).
Nevertheless, when a friend produced his mobile phone the other day he gave me a sharp look and said, “Hey, you’re not going to hack into this are you?”
How we roared! But I did feel rather as a virtuous MP might have done a year or two ago if his constituents treated him as if he had claimed expenses for repairs to the battlements of a chateau in the South of France, when all he had done was charge for a packet of paperclips.
There is a tendency to tar everybody in the same line of work with the same brush that is used for the wrong ‘uns.
There is also a tendency in Britain to lurch from one moral panic to another. In recent years we have had the like of Sachsgate, Parliamentary expensesgate, Super Injunctionsgate… and now mobile phone hacking-gate.
It is horrible, it’s illegal and it is so far beyond the pale that you can’t see it through a telescope. But it is also massively overcooked, just another example of the hysteria that regularly grips this country.
Mobile phone hacking happened because it could. Previously, ne’er do well reporters had to root through rubbish bins, hide in wardrobes and install secret cameras. But nowadays everybody carries around little electronic communication devices which, as it turns out, can be hacked into by the unscrupulous.
Perhaps one reason for the wave of moral outrage is that mobile phones have become so much a part of people’s personalities – almost an extra appendage – that the thought of them being hacked into is tantamount to having our brain cells hotwired.