THE BLOG
15/07/2011 05:57 BST | Updated 13/09/2011 06:12 BST

When Phone Hacking Was a Very Good Thing

Despite all the moral outrage now being generated by the phone hacking scandals, it may be worth remembering that if we were not so good at doing essentially the same thing 70 years ago, we may well have been living in a very different country today.

After all the revelations about Millie Dowler, wounded war heroes and 9/11 victims, who could possibly think that phone-hacking can be - sometimes at least - a very good thing?

Well I can. For today the Queen visits Bletchley Park, the site of Britain's extraordinary code-breaking successes in the Second World War. This is something that I am particularly proud of as my grandfather, Dilly Knox, was the chief codebreaker there and who was one of the first people to break the Enigma codes which the Third Reich used to encrypt all their military and government communications.

The techniques involved in breaking Enigma were of course rather more sophisticated than those used in breaking into the mobile phones of celebrities and other tabloid victims. And the reason for doing so - fighting a war for the preservation of civilisation as opposed to scooping rival tabloids - were also rather more elevated as well.

The results were also ever so slightly more impressive as well. For example, Dilly Knox laid the ground for breaking the variant of Enigma used by the Abwehr. So, when Britain had managed to turn a number of German spies operating in England, they were able to monitor the information that we being sent back to Germany by these spies--and then to listen in on whether that information was taken seriously. This was vital in the run up to D-Day when it was essential to maintain the pretence that the invasion was to be around Calais as opposed to Normandy. This one example of code-breaking - or phone-hacking - was arguably responsible for saving tens of thousands of lives. The work of by grandfather and thousands of others at Bletchley Park - described by Churchill as the golden geese that laid golden eggs but never cackled - is said by some historians to have shortened the war by two to four years and that the outcome of the war would have been uncertain without it.

So, despite all the moral outrage now being generated by the phone hacking scandals, it may be worth remembering that if we were not so good at doing essentially the same thing 70 years ago, we may well have been living in a very different country today.

Tim Knox is Director of the Centre for Policy Studies.