UK Uncut triumph over the Vodafone website… but lose my support

Earlier today UK Uncut posted their own updates on several blogs belonging to Vodafone. Here’s there press release. I’ve posted screenshots of their twitter stream and their screenshots of the affected websites below.

Haha preparing this e-mischief is fun. We're about 30 minutes away. Stay tuned!We're about to do a little Internet takeover. 12.00. Pass it on.We just hijacked dozens of blogs on Vodafone's flagship CSR site to highlight cuts to charity fundingThe passwords were leaked to us by a lovely World of Difference 'winner' who is angry about Vodafone's £6bn tax dodge

Vodafone blog screenshotVodafone blog screenshot 2

The text of the hijacked website read:

For the last five months, people all over the country have occupied Vodafone’s high street stores in outrage at the company’s £6bn tax dodge.

Today, UK Uncut have occupied this website.

We demand that the government force Vodafone to pay the £6bn in tax it owes the public, in order to prevent the cuts to charities and essential public services.

World of Difference is Vodafone’s flagship Corporate Social Responsibility initiative, designed to project the image of a company that cares about the society it is part of. But Vodafone’s charitable giving pales into insignificance next to their massive tax dodge.

Charities across the country are having funding slashed by up to £5bn by a government that claims there is no alternative the cuts. But Vodafone’s unpaid tax bill on its own could cover every single cut to every single charity.

The cuts are not fair, and there are alternatives, like making corporate tax dodgers pay. Until the government stops these cuts, people will continue to fight.

See you on the high streets.


I personally think that this may constitute unauthorised access to a computer system and modification of data. Both are illegal under the Computer Misuse Act 1990. If true, this could earn up to five years in prison.


Relevant parts of the Computer Misuse Act

Section 1

A person is guilty of an offence under this section if:

  • he causes a computer to perform any function with intent to secure access to any program or data held in any computer
  • the access he intends to secure is unauthorised; and
  • he knows at the time when he causes the computer to perform the function that that is the case.

Section 3

A person is guilty of an offence under this section if:

  • he does any act which causes an unauthorised modification of the contents of any computer; and
  • at the time when he does the act he has the requisite intent and the requisite knowledge.

Although the password was given to the activists by the authorised user, it was not authorised by the owners of the blog, Vodafone. I personally am not happy with this step. I do not believe that it was necessary to introduce activities that may be a criminal offence at this stage since public opinion appears to be in favour of the UK Uncut message.

Author: Latentexistence

The world is broken and I can't fix it because I am broken. I can, however, rant about it all and this is where I do that when I can get my thoughts together. Most of the time you'll find my words on Twitter rather than here though. I sometimes write for Where's The Benefit too.

17 thoughts on “UK Uncut triumph over the Vodafone website… but lose my support”

  1. The difference between online occupation and offline occupation from a theory point of view is minimal. That one is a criminal offence and one is civil is an arbitrary distinction in law, but that distinction does not exist in morality.

    Furthermore, refusal to leave a shop you’re protesting in goes beyond civil trespass – if you are disrupting the lawful activities of others, it can become aggravated trespass, which is a criminal offence. So I think you have a slightly rosy view of the legality of other UK Uncut actions – just because people aren’t being prosecuted, doesn’t mean there wouldn’t be grounds.

    Again, with focus on morality rather than arbitrary legal distinctions, I find it impossible to condemn defacing a website through addition of posts (no data is lost) if I support the closure of stores. Preventing customers from getting into Boots to buy goods (including medicines) is surely a more serious action than adding a spurious update to a blog..?

    I just personally don’t think that today’s hijack crossed any moral lines that hadn’t been crossed already as part of other actions. This represents an expansion of activity, but not really an escalation.

  2. I definitely still support them. A lot of people have felt this way about DDOS protests but all in all, the laws around where, when and how you’re allowed to disagree in a society that is supposed to be democratic are pretty stringent. The facts as I can see them are that we all voted but ended up with a government that nobody really wanted. Many people have been protesting against the decisions this government is making since the beginning and they have been peaceful protests but you’ve seen (and blogged about) what has happened. Nobody has listened, civil disobedience can be as illegal as you like but that doesn’t make it wrong. Eating Chocolate could become illegal if they coerced enough ministers into agreeing on it!

  3. How about the’ legality’ of the suffragettes, anti-apartheid movement, Civil Rights movement in the US… I guess they lost your support as well, right??

    1. It’s a different level of protest. I might have been prepared to accept that sort of thing if nothing changed but UK Uncut was winning without having to do anything illegal. Now a vast number of people will decry them as criminals and ignore their message. How does that help anyone?

  4. LatentExistence: it was also illegal for my grandfather to drink out of a “whites only” fountain, for my greatgrandmother and my uncle to sit silently at the front counter of a cafe and wait to be served, for Rosa Parks to sit at the front of the bus. Those were LAWS. And those laws were broken, passively and peacefully, to prove a point. They were prosecuted and one cousin hanged. It was AGAINST THE LAW what they were doing but now we call them heroes, and do not tell me for a minute that there was a load of support for them without it. There wasn’t.

    1. I think there’s a difference between breaking an unjust law which you seek to repeal (i.e. where the law itself is the problem), and breaking a law which is essentially unrelated to the problem, but is related to your chosen method of protest.

      Still, the Suffragettes did the latter – whether it was this, or women’s involvement in WWI, that led to success is an interesting question. We can only guess what would have happened to the cause without WWI coming along.

      Taking a purely economic view, it seems logical that UKuncut would have to look likely to cause almost £6bn of damage to Vodafone to make them unilaterally give in. For the government to get involved, the calculations are far more complex – if you fight large organisations and lose, or lose on appeal, the costs can be horrific.


      P.S. I support the goal of getting businesses who trade in the UK to pay a fair level of tax, but the real answer is for UK and European legislation to enforce this. I don’t know how we get there though.

      1. I don’t have the answer either – or at least not an answer that will suit everyone. I’m not a politician, or a sociologist or eddified student. Just one person, but one person feeling the crunch in ways we keep trying to get UK Uncut to acknowledge and join up with but doesn’t seem to work. What I do know is things CANNOT continue as they’re going. People are going to get angry and they are going to have to fight back for any change to happen. I cannot grok people who cheer Libya and Egypt on from a distance but then gasp in horror when someone does something like this. Is revolution only worth cheering as long as it doesn’t inconvenience anyone at home? Does my brain in.

  5. On UK Uncut actions I have occupied private premises and refused to leave until the police were called on numerous occasions. This is presumably a criminal offence (aggravated trespass). Of course, I am not a criminal because I have never been proven guilty of any crime (and neither have those who posted on Vodafone’s website today), but I think I technically breached the law.

    What I’m trying to say is, I regret that I never had your support.

    1. I just removed the bit that explained that I was ok with the civil offence of trespass but not the criminal offence of unauthorised computer access. It’s nothing to do with the severity of the action, it’s about trying to stay within the law until there is no choice, and keeping the support of other people. You had my support.

  6. The more extreme forms of civil disobedience, such as practiced by the suffragettes and in civil rights movements, generally led to imprisonment or death. It’s upping the stakes a lot to get your message out, and often means a loss of public support.

    If more civil disobedience is the path UKuncut wish to take, I hope they have seriously considered the consequences.

  7. It seems that you are conflating a genuine sense of moral disapproval with more personal feelings of disappointment that UK Uncut no longer fits exactly into the idea you had of the correct way to protest. I felt the same way when other students trashed Milbank Tower; I was angry that other people had stolen my ability to be part of a completely law abiding protest and it’s not the way I would have liked things to have been done, but other than recklessness which endangered people I can’t really condemn those actions and certainly wouldn’t withdraw my support and solidarity from the student movement as a whole.

  8. I’m not a lawyer, but understand that there is a principle in law that goes something like this: If I grab you by the hair, that is assault. If you are being swept down a river and I do the same thing, grab you by the hair, then it is still assault as such, but because I am doing so for a greater good, then it is not a criminal offence.

    I greatly admire the Berrigan brothers (US Plowshares) and respect the fact they have often deliberately broken the law for a greater good, namely the end of nuclear weapons. Sometimes, the word criminal, really is a complement if you think about it.

    I sort of see UKUncut in the same way as I see the Berrigans. If they have broken the law and if there are complaints made to the police, and if they are convicted, well, they will have done so for a greater good.

    If the media use this as an excuse to discredit UKUncut, then it is up to the supporters to demand the media we pay for address the bigger issues we face, particularly the unfair tax system we have gradually adopted over the years, the unfair burden placed on the public rather than being placed on those who benefited from the boom and brought about the global financial crisis.

    1. There is a part in law that allows a jury to find someone not guilty on the defence that their crime was committed to prevent a bigger injustice – this was the defence that was tried by the Kingsnorth (?) climate protestors unsuccessfully and Hawk to Ploughshares succesfully (who damaged BaE hawk jets that were waiting to be shipped to indonesia for Suharto to use attacking the East Timorese civilian population)

  9. I think that the real issue here is tactics. I don’t think there’s any question of the morality of the act when it’s so theoretically similar to activists occupying a building. But, it is legally a little dubious; I’m not saying it’s illegal, but it’s obviously questionable if we’re having this conversation. And if we’re having this conversation, there are plenty of people that are itching for the movement to fuck up that will jump on this for sure.

    You’re right, we’ve got absolutely tons of options. This probably wasn’t necessary, and I can’t imagine will gain the support of many people that aren’t already supporters. UK Uncut is made up of people from all walks of life and some folks just aren’t ready to understand ‘hacking’ or ‘cyber-criminals’. Drawing an example, while Wikileaks has broadly been a success, a lot of people were and still are pretty pissed about it.

    I still have the greatest of respect for UK Uncut, I’ve got absolutely no doubt in my mind that they had the best intentions, but in a world where the media is king you’ve got to show a bit of public relations nouse.

  10. I don’t agree with Vodafone’s business practices. Rather than break the law, I just make sure they know how I feel by writing to them – and then make sure that I DON’T GIVE THEM MY CUSTOM. I want a phone company with principles and so I use The Phone Co-op. If more people made sure their spending followed their principles, we’d have some very different business practices in place, especially in banking. Don’t just whinge, take your business elsewhere.

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