A few weeks ago, Byline Investigates had a story about how the Sun (the UK tabloid owned by Rupert Murdoch) had hired an American private investigator to dig into then-Meghan Markle’s life in 2016. It was soon after the British tabloids learned that Prince Harry and Meghan were quietly dating throughout the summer of 2016, and a rash of stories about Meghan appeared in those tabloids starting in September 2016. The private investigator got so much information about Meghan, her family, her colleagues, and a lot more. He even got her Social Security number. The investigator passed it all along to the Sun. All of that has now been confirmed, and Meghan and Harry reacted to the news.
A US private investigator has told BBC News he was paid by the Sun newspaper to obtain personal information about the Duchess of Sussex in the early days of her relationship with Prince Harry. But Daniel Hanks says he unlawfully accessed detailed information including Meghan’s social security number. The Sun’s publisher said it requested legitimate research and instructed Mr Hanks he must act lawfully.
Meghan and Harry said it was a “moment of reflection” for the media industry.
BBC News has seen the so-called “comprehensive report on Meghan and her family” which the investigator, also known as Danno Hanks, passed to the Sun. It included her phone number, addresses and social security number as well as information on her family members. His report also included information on her ex-husband and a former boyfriend. In the US, licensed private investigators are allowed full access to databases of personal information for some permitted reasons such as court reports. But accessing this additional level of detail for journalistic purposes is unlawful.
Mr Hanks said: “Pretty much everything I found out they could find out themselves using legal means – with the exception of the social security numbers. When you have that information… it’s the key to the kingdom.”
While there is no evidence it happened in this instance, social security numbers in particular could potentially be used to further other intrusive investigations.
A spokesman for Harry and Meghan said: “The Duke and Duchess of Sussex feel that today is an important moment of reflection for the media industry and society at large, as this investigative report shows that the predatory practices of days past are still ongoing, reaping irreversible damage for families and relationships. They are grateful to those working in media who stand for upholding the values of journalism, which are needed now more than ever before.”
It really was so much, so fast for Meghan. She met a cute prince, said why not, then everything went sideways in a few months. The only thing she could hold onto, to anchor her, was Harry, who had some inkling about how his future wife would be treated. But holy sh-t, if I was dating a guy and after a few months, a national British paper gained access to my Social Security number and all of my vital information – not to mention the information about my family – I would be out the door. It wasn’t Harry’s fault, of course. This part of it wasn’t even the Windsors’ fault. But I would not have been able to handle it with any grace. I would have sued everybody and thrown a huge incandescent fit. While it’s not clear whether Meghan knew – at the time – that a private investigator had accessed her SSN, she knew pretty quickly that September/October that the media had their hands on her address, phone numbers, and family information. The Murdoch media empire needs to be dismantled, my God.
Photos courtesy of Avalon Red, WENN.