The End of Privacy: Murdoch, Technology and the Rise of the Corporate-State

Rupert Murdoch’s tabloid the “News of the World” is mired in a vicious wiretapping scandal. The scandal reveals amongst other things: the control a private institution and actor like News Corporation (parent company of News of the World) and Rupert Murdoch, respectively, can have over politicians and public affairs.The ability of a private group to access such secret and personal information, can empower them to gain control over other groups and institutions, such as governments.Such mergers of public and private institutions portrays the extent of Corporatism/Fascism in the western world. Once this merger is established, government actors can then use private actors as a front organization, to collect data that would be illegal and difficult for them to do directly. The cooperation of such private institutions with governments undermines the power and participation of regular citizens in so-called “free” and “democratic” countries like Britain.

The Bigger They Are, The Harder They Fall

The News of the World tabloid in Britain was one the biggest and longest running (since 1843!) publications in the world, and a revenue generator NewsCorp. News Corp. is a private media corporation. However, media providers such as newspapers are considered quasi-public institutions because their goal is supposed to be to help inform their readers and to hold a special place in the public’s trust. The wiretapping revelations destroyed public trust in this publication and led to its closure.

The wiretapping scandal also led to the resignations of top police officers in Great Britain as well as the arrests and detainments of others. The wiretaps had been far reaching and done with the help of law enforcement personnel, on politicians, royalty, and even victims of terrorist events. This allowed the publisher to have the best and juiciest gossip faster than its rivals.

Wire Tapping For More Than Gossip?

Was the wiretapping only about tabloid gossip? Wiretapping politicians and royalty means access to secret information on extremely rich, powerful and influential people, as well as official government business, including state secrets. What did News Corp. do when they received that sort of information? Did they keep it or discard it? Could it have been used for blackmail? Moreover, it is well known that media companies have historically loved wars, as conflict helps to sell more papers. Could News Corp. have helped push British military involvement in Iraq through its secret knowledge of government officials? Or were they aware of the lies about WMDs in Iraq and did they withhold that information from the public? It is hard to tell, but both are now realistic possibilities.

There may also have been personally beneficial benefits in exchange for wiretapping information. The former editor of the News of the World was forced to leave in 2007 when the wiretapping was originally made public. That editor later went on to become a top aid to British Prime Minister David Cameron. How does a guy that commits a felony get such a high position? Also, could the private information gained from wiretapping allowed the former editor and the Prime Minister to help “control” the British Parliament and its members? One can quickly see how systemic violations of the law by someone now in the competitive world of politics, can help him control the democratic process by accessing private and personal information of rivals and allies.

Now the original whistleblower that blew the lid off the scandal has been found dead. Local law enforcement, which is tainted by secretly helping make those wiretaps, immediately claimed there was nothing suspicious about the event only a few moments after finding the body. Officers do not usually make statements like this so quickly, particularly without completing the routine postmortem autopsy.

The Pressure is on Murdoch

Rupert Murdoch is now under pressure: his venture failed miserably, his tabloid magazine is defunct, and his bid for British Sky Broadcasting is likely to fail because of the wiretapping drama. There is also the possibility of criminal charges in multiply countries, as well as the destruction of his credibility.

The News of the World’s criminal tactics did lead to years of success. Murdoch claims he was not aware of the criminality, even though he is said have weekly discussion with the editors of all of his papers. Wouldn’t he ask how they found out such good info?

What is known is that Murdoch is given priority access to British Prime Ministers. This could have been because of the reach of Murdoch’s global news empire, such that politicians wanted to be on his good side to avoid criticism in the press. But it also could have been because they feared what he could do to them with the private information he had collected on them.

This is one of the ways Corporatism develops. In such cases, a private actor like Murdoch gains extraordinary control over the main lever of public power: the government. When a tabloid is bold enough to tap the phone lines of members of the royal family, one can see the extent of power this private media company has over public institutions. Moreover, when employees of that corporation later work in high level jobs for the government and for police departments, the Corporatism becomes more pronounced. In the US, this could be see in the revolving door between the major banks, the Federal Reserve and the US Treasury Department.

Furthermore, besides tabloid gossip, what if they had access to private financial information? Would that give Murdoch an unfair trade advantage in the marketplace?  Moreover, the criminal activity did give the tabloid the upper hand (and thus higher sales) compared to its less dishonest competitors. In addition, News Corp. possibly hacked into Bloomberg (a rival financial media provider) multiple times! This level of control of the media, public representatives, and secret access to private information of rival companies, made News Corp. a powerful player in British politics. Thus making a private company a powerful, unelected, and unresponsive player in government and the lives of the citizenry.

Big Brother Watching? That’s OK

The challenges to personal privacy are more pronounced with the proliferation of inexpensive telecommunications technology.  Modern technology, particularly the internet, allows for massive breaches of security. Much of it occurs willingly by unaware (or careless) individuals that give up personal information to sites like and Readers: please be aware that such sites collect personal information that could be used for fraud, such as one’s date of birth, place of birth and other key personal security data.

There is a public attitude shift away from valuing personal privacy with the creation of social networking sites. Facebook’s founder admitted this himself. With close circuit TVs (CCTV), tracking of credit card purchases and online search histories, your personal information is being collected and stored every second with your acquiescence.

Who Will Watch The Watchers?

There is a valid danger that this accumulated information will be used against a person. Importantly, governments also demand access to this information, many times bypassing the necessary lawful measures. In the US, the telecommunications companies have been forced to forward their data to government servers. There is an argument that access to this info is necessary for public safety. However there is a lack of constitutional authority to do this, as well as privacy laws against it.

Continuing with the theme of corporatism, we see the cooperation and funding of data collectors, organizers and disseminators like Google by secret government institutions like the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the National Security Agency (NSA) for electronic surveillance. The CIA and Google have even joined forces to fund a start-up company that claims to use internet technology to predict future events using aggregate information collected from online users. An ex-CIA employee even claims that the CIA gave the seed money to start Google!

Moreover, the introduction of smart phones like the Android and I-Phone, allow Google and telecom providers such as Verizon to track wherever you go, do voice recognition and recording, transcribing whole conversations, as well as knowing every person in your personal contact list and how often you talk to them. A few weeks ago there was big hubbub and politicians were irate about privacy concerns regarding smart phones. However, those politicians forget that they themselves passed laws forcing phone makers, telecommunications companies, and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to track people through their phones more than a decade ago!

Data collection is not only done against foreigners (as was originally alleged), but on Americans as well. The NSA is being even building a +$1 billion data processing center in Utah, to help record and organize the mountains of data it collects.

It Gets Worse

The pressures on personal privacy are not limited to telecommunications. The recent Health Care Act included language that required 1099 tax form reporting for transactions with one vendor or customer that totaled more than $600 in a year. Though repealed soon after, this section of the act would have forced people to spend much time and money doing paperwork and reporting on each other. Moreover, the law would have forced gold transactions (which easily goes over the $600 limit) to be reported to IRS. The Health Care act also included billions in funding for the creation of an online medical history database. Now people’s most secret health issues are accessible to anyone with the proper access code or any teenage computer hacker.

The worse anti-privacy laws were enacted with the Patriot Act, which continues to allow government agents to search, snoop, break-in, tap and do other investigations without the necessary warrants required by the Constitution, and previous Federal and State laws.

Furthermore, recent Federal rules have forced global financial institutions to report any American customers they have. The burden of this rule, in addition to destroying banking privacy, has put such a burden on these banks that they have become very unwelcoming to new US clients. It is much more difficult now for Americans do to banking and business overseas.

The technology is only getting more intrusive. American police now have remote iris scanners and fingerprint machines in their cars, as well as license plate (and soon to be facial) scanners on the top of their cars. This technology was tested on the battlegrounds of Iraq and Afghanistan and is now coming home to roost, costing taxpayers billions. Add to that the cost of the numerous secret satellites launched, not to discover the cosmos or to study the earth, its oceans, and weather patterns, but to spy on individuals. This system has likely cost taxpayers more than a trillion dollars over the last decades.

“I’ve Got Nothing To Hide”

Many argue that they have nothing to hide, thus no need to fear diminished privacy rights. However, looking at the birth of our own country, we see that the Federalist Papers that were so influential in creating the nation, used the pen name Publius for the privacy and protection of its authors. There could be no Publius in modern America.

Privacy infringement particularly hurts regular individuals who do not have the power, money and tools to protect and defend themselves. Wealthy large corporations and other powerful individuals might be able to control their privacy to a certain extent, but regular citizens do not have the political unity to push back. In fact, most people are not even aware of the issues discussed here. That ignorance becomes a big problem as it allows privileged one-way access to information by the elite in control, giving them an artificial advantage over others.


What is the solution? That is difficult to answer. Technology will go forward whether we like it or not. Technology is so widespread, small, and inexpensive that in the future, we will probably be able to record every moment in time! Even now, with cheap camera phones, a baby born today can track its own life and have access to his whole families lives through pictures, blog entries and other recorded events.

However, one solution may be to create a level playing field. As it is taxpayers who pay for the surveillance infrastructure, they should also have access to the incoming data it accumulates. This prevents governments from becoming overly secretive about the information they collect as well.

For example, street camera data should be accessible to regular people. Increased access to this flow of data can also be used for public analysis, helping ease traffic congestion or other statistical studies that can help society. Moreover, access to this information will give the public the ability to “watch the watchers.” We all have seen numerous secretly taped videos revealing police brutality that would have been unknown if not for the videos.

Finally, as I have said before: Be mindful of what you make public. Anything outside of your thoughts can and will be known by others. It is likely that even those secrets you keep in your mind will no longer be secret as well as new mind reading technology will eventually become mainstream. Although the reliability of such technology will be likely always be questioned.

Welcome to our Brave New World – John Masters


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