Mulcaire and confidentiality

What impact will the withdraw of litigation funding have?

Since the revelations in the New York Times revived the phone hacking scandal back in September 2010, one of the most puzzling aspects has been the "settlement" agreement that News International had entered into with Glenn Mulcaire. In particular, as was pointed out at Jack of Kent, a conventional settlement agreement made no sense if Mulcaire was not actually an employee to begin with.

Since then, it has become clear that the agreement had two key terms in addition to any cash payment for Mulcaire to compromise all and any legal claims against News International, if he ever had any such claims at all.

First, there was an obligation of confidentiality on Mulcaire. This is standard in such agreements, though in this case it was clearly convenient to News International. A cynic may even suggest that was the whole point.

Second, there appears to have been an indemnity for the payment of Mulcaire's legal fees for defences to civil claims. This may have been tied into a further right of News International to conduct his defence. This would have been sensible from a strategic point of view, as it appears News International was facing a number of actions as co-defendant with Mulcaire.

However, after pressure at yesterday's select committee hearing, it has been announced that this funding of legal costs has been withdrawn. Apart from the direct financial detriment this will have on Mulcaire, it is not clear what impact this will have on either the confidentiality provision or any right of News International to conduct his defence on his behalf. If the agreement is sophisticated and well-drafted, it may be that the indemnity can be dropped without any effect on whether other obligations can be enforced.

In any case, it would now seem that Mulcaire has no direct interest in co-ordinating any defence to the civil claims with News International. He may well feel at least morally released from any obligation of confidentiality. The withdraw of funding his defence may have a significant impact on the course of the outstanding civil claims. In this way, as in many others, the events of this week mean that News International cannot carry on as before.

David Allen Green is legal correspondent of the New Statesman. He is the author of the Jack of Kent blog and can be followed on Twitter and on Facebook.

David Allen Green is legal correspondent of the New Statesman and author of the Jack of Kent blog.

His legal journalism has included popularising the Simon Singh libel case and discrediting the Julian Assange myths about his extradition case.  His uncovering of the Nightjack email hack by the Times was described as "masterly analysis" by Lord Justice Leveson.

David is also a solicitor and was successful in the "Twitterjoketrial" appeal at the High Court.

(Nothing on this blog constitutes legal advice.)

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The problems with ending encryption to fight terrorism

Forcing tech firms to create a "backdoor" to access messages would be a gift to cyber-hackers.

The UK has endured its worst terrorist atrocity since 7 July 2005 and the threat level has been raised to "critical" for the first time in a decade. Though election campaigning has been suspended, the debate over potential new powers has already begun.

Today's Sun reports that the Conservatives will seek to force technology companies to hand over encrypted messages to the police and security services. The new Technical Capability Notices were proposed by Amber Rudd following the Westminster terrorist attack and a month-long consultation closed last week. A Tory minister told the Sun: "We will do this as soon as we can after the election, as long as we get back in. The level of threat clearly proves there is no more time to waste now. The social media companies have been laughing in our faces for too long."

Put that way, the plan sounds reasonable (orders would be approved by the home secretary and a senior judge). But there are irrefutable problems. Encryption means tech firms such as WhatsApp and Apple can't simply "hand over" suspect messages - they can't access them at all. The technology is designed precisely so that conversations are genuinely private (unless a suspect's device is obtained or hacked into). Were companies to create an encryption "backdoor", as the government proposes, they would also create new opportunities for criminals and cyberhackers (as in the case of the recent NHS attack).

Ian Levy, the technical director of the National Cyber Security, told the New Statesman's Will Dunn earlier this year: "Nobody in this organisation or our parent organisation will ever ask for a 'back door' in a large-scale encryption system, because it's dumb."

But there is a more profound problem: once created, a technology cannot be uninvented. Should large tech firms end encryption, terrorists will merely turn to other, lesser-known platforms. The only means of barring UK citizens from using the service would be a Chinese-style "great firewall", cutting Britain off from the rest of the internet. In 2015, before entering the cabinet, Brexit Secretary David Davis warned of ending encryption: "Such a move would have had devastating consequences for all financial transactions and online commerce, not to mention the security of all personal data. Its consequences for the City do not bear thinking about."

Labour's manifesto pledged to "provide our security agencies with the resources and the powers they need to protect our country and keep us all safe." But added: "We will also ensure that such powers do not weaken our individual rights or civil liberties". The Liberal Democrats have vowed to "oppose Conservative attempts to undermine encryption."

But with a large Conservative majority inevitable, according to polls, ministers will be confident of winning parliamentary support for the plan. Only a rebellion led by Davis-esque liberals is likely to stop them.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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