But the real achievement of Mr. Murdoch's Cirque du Celleil is to starkly illustrate something else I've been saying for a very long time: many major institutions still don't take our privacy very seriously and they unthinkingly or even routinely use the marvels of modern technology to compromise it. The attitude that News Corp. demonstrated toward private information isn't very different from the attitude of a financial institution when it provides private information to a debt collector or from a money manager when it sends password protected (but unencrypted) sensitive information to a government agency by regular mail—none of them really give a damn. It's all about making money, isn't it? And profit seems to always trump privacy, whether the transgressor is a newspaper looking for circulation, a credit card company seeking to collect a debt, or an identity-stealing hacker in the business of selling Social Security numbers.
Obviously, I'm not writing here about the scandal itself, or who did what to whom, what was illegal and what was not, who knew what when, or why. I don't know if Murdoch the elder or Murdoch the younger were privy to the goings-on, and I don't know for a fact who is guilty of what. Frankly, at this stage neither does anyone else. What I do know is that this entire scandal should serve as a wake-up call to consumers and institutions alike. Modern technology is like an IV line into our arteries: good things can be put in through it, but our blood can easily be drained as well, often without any knowledge or awareness of the process on our part.
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And while it's not my intention to make light of a very serious situation, I do have a modest proposal for Mr. Murdoch. Wherever the chips may fall when the story is finally written, make sure that the technical details of just how the hacking was accomplished are fully and widely disclosed. Spend whatever it takes to teach the general public how cell phone hacking can be prevented. Institute new and potent rules to protect the privacy not only of journalistic subjects, but also of your own employees (remember that the personal information of Fox News personnel in the U.S. was compromised by an unidentified third party earlier this year).
Most importantly, Mr. Murdoch, not only should you take steps to change the corporate culture and attitude toward privacy and the gathering of personal information at News Corp., but also work to encourage the same at every other company, financial institution and government entity with whom you deal or have sway. If we have institutions that care about privacy and a public that is well informed with respect to the risks of everyday digital life and the prophylactic steps that must be taken to avoid danger, we will all have a better world—and you, too, could get some of your privacy, and perhaps even your dignity, returned.
This work is the opinion of the columnist and in no way reflects the opinion of ABC News.
Adam Levin is Chairman and cofounder of Credit.com and Identity Theft 911. His experience as former director of the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs gives him unique insight into consumer privacy, legislation and financial advocacy. He is a nationally recognized expert on identity theft and credit.