Doormat-ologist needed

Roland Perry lists at
Wed Sep 8 08:20:32 BST 2010

In article <000301cb4ef4$cd72ca30$68585e90$>, "Caspar Bowden 
(travelling private e-mail)" <tharg at> writes
>Doormat-ologists' opinion please of:
>.Addressing the home affairs select committee today John Yates, the
>assistant Metropolitan police commissioner, repeated earlier claims by
>police that cases of hacking into voicemails

There's a lot of confusion about what the journalists actually did. My 
impression was that they simply accessed the target's voicemail, in the 
same way the user would have done. Indeed, one of the press reports last 
week said that some targets had their suspicions raised when messages 
turned up in the "saved" box, when they hadn't heard them the first 

>could only be prosecuted if the victim had not yet listened to their 

Given the way most mobile phone voicemail works, if you abandon 
listening part-way through it reverts to "unread", but if you get to the 
end all you can do is choose to "save" it. Not sure what happens if you 
decline to do *anything* with it, at that stage - does it revert to 
unread, or is it discarded?

In any case, this means that while you can clearly decide that a "saved" 
message has been previously listened to, it's probably impossible to 
tell (without contacting the phone company, who may not keep records of 
this) whether unread (sic) voicemail has been listened to previously.

>"That is nonsense, and a recurring problem with this police position in this

Whatever the wording that appears to be on the face of the Act (which 
may well need reading through the lens of the Parliamentary 
draughtsman), my recollection is the intention was that voicemail 
(although at the time people only really discussed email) would only be 
still "in the course of transmission", while it was being "stored for 
FIRST collection". There would be other issues with SUBSEQUENTLY 
accessing 'read' voicemails/SMS/emails, but it would not be 

On another point, raised by Peter, in the case of mobile phone voicemail 
the interception is on a public telecoms system, and therefore a 
criminal offence. However, I suspect that an answerphone on someone's 
premises would be regarded as on a private telecoms system (because it's 
beyond the white BT box).

>Experts say that although the law under the Regulation of Investigatory
>Powers Act 2000 (Ripa), which governs the interception of phone
>communications, is complex, draft government guidelines clarify the
>illegality of hacking into voicemails.
>Those guidelines on the use of the act states that it is illegal to
>intercept communications "at any time when the communication is being stored
>on the communication system in such a way as to enable the intended
>recipient to have access to it", which experts say includes voicemails.

It's true to observe (the obvious) that it includes voicemails, but 
that's a red herring. What matters is the concept of FIRST vs SUBSEQUENT 

Roland Perry

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