For the last week or two, the lead story in international media has been the cell phone hacking scandal at the News of the World in London. As the investigation into those events has widened and details have become publicly known, we have learned that the hacking may have extended to other media outlets and most likely took place outside of the United Kingdom, including in the United States. Frankly, before this story broke, I never considered that hacking into cell phones by a private person or entity might be possible. However, now that we know that cell phone privacy may be a real concern, there may be several implications for the legal community.
The first concern we should all have must be our own cell phone security. It appears that the cell phone hacking allegedly perpetrated by the News of the World was accomplished primarily by hacking into the voicemails of the targets. The scheme was actually quite simple. Most people have a four digit code to access their voicemails. According to a recent ABC News report, the most common passcodes are 0000, 1234, 5555, or the last four digits of social security numbers or the birthdates of the user or a close family member. Obviously, these are not hard to guess. Furthermore, people tend to use the same passcodes, PINs and passwords for multiple applications, so finding those codes can lead to even more information, accounts, etc. being compromised.
Since we as lawyers are entrusted with the private and proprietary information of our clients, we have a duty to safeguard that information. We should now all be aware of the risks of cellular privacy and take steps to ensure that our clients' information, as well as our own, remains confidential. We need to make sure that our voicemails are protected by unique and difficult to decipher PINs and deleted once received. Unfortunately, publicity of events such as the News of the World hacking scheme can lead to many ill-intentioned people learning a new method to steal information or assets. We can expect this type of act to spread until further security protocols to prevent it are developed.
Another potential implication of the cell hacking scandal is the possibility of attracting the interest of members of the plaintiff's bar interested in pursuing claims related to cellular security. The victims of the recent cellular hacking most likely will have claims against the perpetrators for invasion of privacy and similar torts. If the practice of accessing private data of others through cellular phones is more widespread, and it certainly appears from recent news that it is, then we can expect that there will be attorneys out there who will begin marketing the representation of those who have been victims of that practice. You can expect that the targets will be not only be the hackers, but also entities or people who may have been in a position to prevent or mitigate the acts. Our clients will need to be advised accordingly.