WHAT HAPPENED? On July 19th, Rupert Murdoch, proprietor of one of  the world’s largest news organizations News International, apologized for phone hacking by reporters at the News of the World, and is quoted as saying “this is the humblest day of my life” to a committee of MP’s in London. What does this teach us about information governance?

On Sunday July 10th, 2011 the News of the World published it last edition. This paper had been publishing for 168 years and was the top selling Sunday newspaper in the UK. The closure came following revelations of how the newspaper had allegedly obtained personal information using illegal methods such as phone hacking. The News of the World had a long history of exposing corruption in business and politics as well as the personal scandals of celebrities. It had been very effective at finding and revealing many stories of wrongdoing and corruption with a genuine public interest. However the events leading up to the closure began in 2005 when the News of the World published details of Prince Williams’s health. These details could only have originated from mobile ‘phone messages having been intercepted and this led to a police investigation. Two years later, a reporter working for the newspaper and a private investigator were sent to prison for phone hacking. It was reported that the pair were considered to have been acting alone, and the investigation ended.

Over a period of time it emerged that the ‘phones of further prominent people had been hacked. Then there were allegations that the lists of ‘phone numbers included those of victims of crime and including victims of the 7/7 London bombing. 

This led to the re-opening of the police enquiry and an enquiry by a committee MP's. 

WHAT IS THE PROBLEM? News International is an organization that employs 53,000 people around the world – so how can one newspaper that made up less than 1% of the organization have led to such trouble? When MP Alan Keen asked: “It became clear from the first couple of questions to you Rupert Murdoch, that you'd been kept in the dark quite a bit on some of these real serious issues, is there more?” Rupert Murdoch replied: “Nobody kept me in the dark, I may have been lax in not asking, but [the News of the World] was such a tiny part of our business.”

So how could it be that Mr Murdoch did not know? Clearly some people believe that the man at the top should take responsibility for everything that happens. But should someone at the top of an organization of this size be expected to monitor every employee, or is there a better way? I believe the answer lies with better governance.

Firstly - it is difficult to understand how anyone could believe that obtaining the information described above can be explained as being legal because it is in the public interest.  Secondly the fact that reporters and investigators were able to get hold of some of the information raises the question of how well the information was being cared for by organizations that held it. So - I beleive that the problem is one of information governance.

INFORMATION GOVERNANCE Governance sets the framework within which an organization operates, it sets the ethical tone. It sets the policies and the organizational structure needed to ensure the execution of the strategic goals. With good governance misdeeds are prevented, or at least detected earlier, and processes are in place to ensure proper communication from the management to the staff and gives transparency of what is happening to the board.

Balancing the rights of individual privacy against the need for a free press is not easy. However all organizations need to take care of the information they hold and ensure that they comply with laws and best practice. The best approach for this is one of information governance. Information governance sets the policies, procedures, practices and organizational structures that ensure that information is legally obtained and properly managed. Good governance ensures that there is a consistent approach to risks and compliance across different lines of business and multiple laws and regulations. It can reduce costs by avoiding multiple, ad hoc, approaches to compliance and risk management.

Organizations with good information governance will know what information they hold and will have a process for training staff on how to legally obtain information and to keep this information secure.

CONCLUSION Organisations that collect information on individuals, even the news media, need to make sure that they behave ethically and comply with privacy legislation. Organizations that hold information on individuals need to take care that this information is handled properly and that staff are trained to detect and resist unauthorized attempts to get hold of this information. Basically this is down to good information governance.