Some lawmakers on the House Energy and Commerce said Thursday that Congress needs to dig more deeply into the phone hacking scandal involving News Corp., saying it raises questions about the security of cell phones.
"I'd like to call on the chairman of the full committee to use his jurisdiction to probe the whole issue of privacy [and phone] hacking ... and this burgeoning scandal of News Corp.," Communications and Technology Subcommittee ranking member Anna Eshoo, D-Calif., said during an unrelated hearing on Internet privacy held by her subcommittee and the Commerce, Manufacturing and Trade Subcommittee.
News Corp. has come under fire in recent weeks after it was revealed that some of its British newspapers, most notably the now-defunct News of the World, had hacked the cell phones of British politicians, members of the Royal Family and others.
Commerce, Manufacturing and Trade Subcommittee Chairwoman Mary Bono Mack, R-Calif., said the incident also raises questions about the security of cell phones.
"We often hear that privacy laws in Europe are much stricter than they are in the U.S. If that's so, it's hard to understand how the phone hacking incidents in Britain could have gotten so far out of hand," she said. "It raises the question of whether American consumers are as vulnerable as politicians and celebrities in London."
When asked whether cell phones have adequate safeguards, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski said cell phones are equipped with features such as the ability to require a password to access voicemail that do provide adequate security.
Senate Commerce Chairman Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., and other lawmakers Wednesday called on the Justice Department and Securities and Exchange Commission to investigate possible allegations that U.S. victims of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and other Americans may have been targeted as part of the phone hacking controversy. Some questioned whether News Corp. may have violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.
The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday that the FBI has opened an investigation of the company.
In addition to several British media outlets, News Corp. owns the Wall Street Journal, New York Post , Fox News, and several broadcast stations in the United States. The FCC is in charge of approving the licenses for those stations.
"Based on what we know so far, we continue to believe it is very unlikely that News Corp.'s actions, particularly if confined to the U.K., will lead to the company losing its U.S. broadcast licenses," the investment firm Stifel Nicolaus said in a research note Thursday. "But this development bears monitoring."
Still, the firm added that if any News Corp. officials were convicted under the Foreign Corrupt Practices act, such a move "would ratchet up the heat and could provide a basis for someone to call on the FCC to hold a hearing."