In US, News Corp may truly be held to account


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The Independent US

The former US Secretary of State, and potential presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, said that, whether it’s law, finance, medicine, academia or running a small business, “people rely on confidential communications to do their job”.

She said the United States counted on the trust that “confidentiality provides” and that if someone breached that trust “we are all the worse for it”.

As the US is gripped by current revelations over data surveillance, it’s fair to say that a half dozen allegations of phone hacking that might have been known about at the highest levels of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp look pretty small fry in comparison.

But while there might be outrage over the National Security Agency’s intrusion, there will equally be strong legal anger that foreign newspapers may have trampled over the confidentiality that Clinton and others value.

Finding out exactly what the NSA was up to might be a tough one. Discovering what Murdoch-owned newspapers were doing on US soil might be easier – and it could come with a high price for the media magnate.

The complaints against News Corp were filed in California under laws governing the violation of stored communications, wiretaps and intrusions into private affairs. But beyond Californian common law lie larger US federal laws.

If the US follows the same pattern of hacking-related offences as has occurred in Britain, the force of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act may yet be felt by News Corp. Hundreds of companies have fallen foul of this law, with tens of millions of dollars paid out in fines. And US courts seem far more comfortable than their UK counterparts when it comes to sending senior executives to jail if found guilty.

Eunice Huthart’s complaint should therefore perhaps be seen as the opening salvo of a wider battle to bring News Corp to account in Rupert Murdoch’s own backyard.