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Reports: U.K. paper paid police to 'ping' phones

Former News of the World reporters say the Murdoch-owned paper paid police to locate the phones of news subjects, as well as obtain private data about the royal family.

The scandal surrounding Rupert Murdoch's News of the World is growing, with new allegations that his papers bribed police to use cell phone-tracking technology to find the exact whereabouts of news subjects, as well as to obtain information about the royal family, and also targeted former Prime Minister Gordon Brown, according to reports.

Two former News of the World journalists said the practice of using the illicit cell phone tracking was known as "pinging" in the newsroom, according to The New York Times. The technology, for which one reporter said the News of the World paid nearly $500 each time it was used, is supposed to be restricted to law enforcement and security officials, a former senior Scotland Yard official said. A former News of the World editor told The New York Times that the Murdoch paper also tracked people by hacking into their credit card details to see where the latest charge was made.

Meanwhile, The Guardian reported that internal e-mails from News of the World appear to show requests for payments to a royal protection officer for classified information about Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Charles, and other members of the royal family. And former Prime Minister Gordon Brown told The Guardian that he believes that representatives of Murdoch papers compromised his voice mail, bank account, and the medical records of his son, who has cystic fibrosis.

Private investigators working for The Sun, another Murdoch paper, hired "known criminals" to work on stories about him, Brown told the BBC. The Murdoch papers have denied the allegations. Separately, the BBC reported today that senior police officers have told members of Parliament that News International tried to "thwart" the original investigation into the cell phone hacking.

There are also allegations of computer hacking on the part of News of the World. In an online BBC One broadcast (blocked in the U.S., unfortunately) a former British Army intelligence officer says he believes that copies of e-mails sent from his computer were stolen by a Trojan horse installed by a hacker possibly hired by a News of the World editor. "According to the unnamed hacker's confession, faxed copies of the stolen information were then sent to" the editor, reports Sophos in this blog post.

News of the World announced last week that it would shut down as a result of the scandal. Initially, celebrities, politicians, and sports stars were believed to have been targeted, with parent company News Corp. paying to settle lawsuits by some alleged victims. Public outcry intensified a week ago, after news surfaced that a private investigator working on behalf of News of the World may have interfered with a police investigation by breaking into the cell phone of a missing teen and deleting voice mail messages nine years ago, before she was found murdered.

The potential victims have increased since then to include families of other murdered children, victims of the 2005 London bombings, soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, and even possibly September 11 victims, according to The Mirror.