The Prime Minister's ability to dig himself into a hole without anyone lending him a spade is self-evident, but it would seem The Sun has snuck up behind him with an earth mover, by publishing the recording the phone call between him and Jacqui Janes. I can understand Mrs Janes' reasons for collaborating with The Sun, but can ascribe no such higher motives for News International's grubby manipulation, who seem to have induced her into breaking the law.
The recording and interception of phone calls is governed by the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 ("RIPA"). If you go to the Ofcom website it's pretty clear what you can and cannot do:
Can I record telephone conversations on my home phone?
Yes. The relevant law, RIPA, does not prohibit individuals from recording their own communications provided that the recording is for their own use. Recording or monitoring are only prohibited where some of the contents of the communication - which can be a phone conversation or an e-mail - are made available to a third party, i.e. someone who was neither the caller or sender nor the intended recipient of the original communication.
Do I have to let people know that I intend to record their telephone conversations with me?
No, provided you are not intending to make the contents of the communication available to a third party. If you are you will need the consent of the person you are recording.
What do I do if my calls have been recorded unlawfully?
Under RIPA it is a tort to record or monitor a communication unlawfully. This means that if you think you have suffered from unlawful interception of your phone calls or e-mails you have the right to seek redress by taking civil action against the offender in the courts.
The Sun would be a third party, and the Prime Minister certainly was not aware of the recording. So is Mr Brown going to press for a civil prosecution against Mrs Janes? Of course not, as Murdoch well knows - his media power makes him immune from any fall-out from the affair and, apparently, free to break the law.
News International does have 'previous' in this area, of course, as one of its reporters and a private investigator were jailed in 2007 (under RIPA) for intercepting mobile phone messages of the rich and famous on behalf of The News of the World. The editor of The News of the World at that time was Andy Coulson, who is now the Director of Communication and Planning for the Conservative Party, the main beneficiary of the story. What a happy coincidence.
The person who should be most worried by this story is actually David Cameron. Gordon Brown is a dead man walking, and hardly needs this shove down the stairs to see him off next year. But what it does show is the lengths Murdoch will go to, to see off political enemies and unseat those of whom he disapproves: dirty, underhand, illegal. Now Cameron has been invited to sup with the Devil, he should be nervously checking how long is his spoon.
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