Rupert Murdoch's troubles haven't made much copy on ZDNet UK. The technology of the 'hacking' side is the tiniest of sideshows, although the New York Times' revelation that News International could access mobile phone location databases is a very strong argument for much stricter and more transparent control of our personal data. And while each day's revelations have gripped every journalist in the building — the first thing veteran Guardian hand Vic Keegan asked me at Google's summer party last week was "How much productivity have you lost in the newsroom this week?" — it's a story we've been happy to follow as fascinated onlookers.
But when the current grand guignol dies down, there is one question I'd very much like answered, one I haven't seen raised. The evidence seems very strong that everyone of importance in the UK was under surveillance by News International, with message interception and document extraction bestowed on prime ministers and princes alike. This happened for many years, and was as open a secret as could be.
For want of a better phrase, this is espionage against the state.
We have organisations whose entire reason for existence is finding, analysing and closing down such behaviour. They have a close — but by no means uncritical — relationship with the police, which most certainly does not exclude finding, analysing and closing down matters of state security that arise within the police. Indeed, given the police's role in anti-terrorism intelligence and suppression, our security services have a prime duty to act as an independent monitor on such activities. If they aren't doing that job, who is?
So why did MI5 not raise the alarm? The familiar equation reappears: if they did not know, they were massively incompetent. If they did, they were complicit.
It's a simple question, but one that has implications beyond even those of a corrupt police force in cahoots with a powerful corporation.
If the security services' primary concern isn't the protection of the state — what is it?