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Former editor convicted for deal to buy stolen credit card data about celebs and royals

 
Tabloid Se og Hør used stolen data to write articles about the lifestyles of the rich and famous. Seven people have now been sentenced for illegal hacking in a case that sent shockwaves through the journalism industry when it was exposed in 2014

For four years, Danish gossip magazine Se og Hør published stories about celebrities and Royalty based on stolen credit card information from the payment processing company NETS, which handles all Danish credit card transactions.

But on November 24, the Glostrup City Court decided that the practice was illegal – both for the source and the journalists. In total, seven people have been convicted in what is the biggest tabloid hacking scandal in Danish history.

The harshest sentences were handed out to former NETS employee Bo Henriksen and the former editor-in-chief of Se og Hør, Henrik Qvortrup. Qvortrup initiated the agreement with Henriksen in June 2008 before leaving the editorial staff six months later.

Qvortrup received a 15-month sentence of which three months must be served in jail. Henriksen received an 18-month jail sentence, while the rest of the editorial staff received suspended sentences ranging from four to twelve months.

READ MORE: The return of mass online surveillance

Tracked royals’ and celebreties’ credit cards
The case began in 2014, when former Se og Hør journalist Ken B. Rasmussen published a fictionalised book about his time at Se og Hør, where he described how the weekly gossip magazine uncovered stories about celebrities and Royals through their credit card transactions.

Several journalists at the tabloid subsequently confirmed that the NETS leak was not fiction, leading the police to open an investigation. As the case unravelled in the media, Henriksen decided to turn himself in.

The ensuing police investigation revealed that over a four year period, the 47-year-old passed on the confidential credit card information of 135 Danish celebrities and members of the Royal family to Se og Hør on 662 occasions – Prince Joachim, politician Morten Helveg Petersen and comedian Casper Christen were all targeted.

Henriksen did not have direct access to the credit card database. Instead, he would reset the passwords of other NETS employees and access the databases using their profiles. Henriksen was convicted of using the passwords of at least 31 colleagues 67 times to make at least 523 searches in the databases.

For his trouble, Henriksen was paid around 10,000 cash every month. During his four years as a source, this deal netted Henriksen at least 430,000 kroner.

Journalists complicit in hacking
Though there was no doubt as to whether or not the Se og Hør had bought the illegally-acquired information, the case against the editorial staff hinged on whether or not they knew about – and were hence complicit in – the illegal practice performed by Henriksen.

The editorial staff claimed that they believed that Henriksen had access to the information as a normal part of his job. The court ruled, however, that correspondence between the editorial staff suggested they knew he must have been committing a crime to access the information.

According, Peter Lind Nielsen – media lawyer and partner at the law firm Bird & Bird – the reason the journalists are complicit is the fact that they’ve been encouraging the illicit practice.

“It isn’t new that the press get and use information that has been acquired illegally. What makes this case special is that the source hasn’t just sold a few pieces of information on a single occasion. Instead, the media – and particularly the editor-in-chief – orchestrated and systemized the practice over a long period of time. This means that they are not just handling stolen goods, they’re complicit in the act,” he explains.

“As a journalist, you can’t just stick your head in the sand and claim ignorance. Especially not if you are proactively paying and encouraging people to commit crimes. In essence, Henriksen wouldn’t have committed the crimes if Se og Hør hadn’t prompted him to do it.”

He added that journalists have been acquitted of committing crimes to uncover their stories. In those cases, however, the stories had much greater public interest than the gossip that Se og Hør published.

READ MORE: New surveillance laws trump the NSA

No appeal
The case might get an epilogue. After the sentencing it was revealed that one of the two lay judges, Sahar Aslani, may have held prejudiced views toward both Qvortrup and gossip magazines more generally.

In an interviewed on Radio 27syv she stated that she believed gossip magazine, “should die out”.

Digging through Aslani’s facebook feed, Radio24syv found an old status from 2014, from when the hacking was originally revealed. Back then, Aslani expressed enthusiasm that former editor-in-chief Henrik Qvortrup was to be charged for being complicit in the hacking.

“What goes around comes around, huh, Henrik Qvortrup,” she wrote followed by a smiley.

On Facebook, Qvortrup drew attention to Radio24Syv’s revelations, which suggested he might appeal the verdict. But early in December he announced he would accept the verdict – despite protesting his innocence.

“Out of consideration for my family and the time and effort it would take, I have decided not to appeal and continue a case that has burdened me now for three years – and which relies on events which happened almost nine years ago,” Qvortrup wrote on Facebook. M

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By Jon David Finsen

Born and raised in Copenhagen, Jon holds an M.A. in journalism from Aarhus University.

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