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FBI News Corp. Hacking Probe Now Underway

Jul 20, 2011 | Parker Waichman LLP

The FBI has officially opened its investigation into possible hacking of 9/11 terrorist attack victims by the U.K. tabloid, News of the World, an entity of Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. media conglomerate.  According to a report from The Wall Street Journal, the FBI has contacted both the New York police and its own victims' assistance office as part of the probe.

A spokesperson for the New York Police Department (NYPD) confirmed to the Journal that the FBI had made contact, but that the department had nothing substantial to report.  The NYPD has not received any complaints from 9/11 victims relatives in regards to hacking, he said.

A person familiar with the case also told the Journal that the FBI's Office for Victim Assistance has not received any such complaints.

The Journal also reported that FBI investigators plan to formally meet with U.K. authorities for briefing on what evidence, if any, they have gathered about alleged violations in the U.S.

Reporters for the 168-year-old News of the World tabloid  are known to have hacked thousands of phones, including those belonging to a teenage murder victim, British Prime Minister David Cameron, and scores of celebrities.   Recently, the U.K. Daily Mail reported that an unnamed, retired NYPD officer alleged that reporters for the tabloid contacted him about 9/11 victims' phone information.   "[The investigator's] presumption was that they wanted the information so they could hack into the relevant voicemails, just like it has been shown they have done in the U.K.," a Mirror source said.

Yesterday while testifying before a committee of the British Parliament, News Corp.'s founder, 80-year-old Rupert Murdoch, asserted that he and other company executives have no knowledge or any evidence of any hacking of Sept. 11 victims' phones or voice mails by reporters.

"I cannot believe it happened anywhere in America," he told the House of Commons' Culture, Media, and Sport Committee, according to the Journal.

According to The Wall Street Journal, though the FBI's News Corp. probe is only in its preliminary stages, it is already known that it will go beyond the hacking allegations. The FBI is also trying to determine if alleged bribes paid to British police officials could constitute a violation of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which makes such bribes a crime in the U.S.

Meanwhile, shareholders are expressing their anger over the entire News Corp. debacle.  In a filing in a Delaware court, a group of investors charge the hacking allegations show “a culture run amok within News Corp.” The charges were added to a News Corp. shareholder lawsuit filed in Delaware Chancery Court several months ago, which was amended to include the hacking scandal

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