It is illegal to tap phones in the UK.
Even when matters of urgent state security are involved, the authorisation to tap phones can only come from the Home Secretary - and even that under strictly limited circumstances.
So today's allegations from the Guardian that News International has sanctioned widespread illegal phone taps against a large number of individuals, including cabinet ministers, are truly shocking. These appear to be simple fishing expeditions with no public interest defence possible.
This is straightforwardly criminal activity.
The Conservatives have found themselves in a certain amount of trouble on this: Andy Coulson, the Tory Director of Communications, was the editor of the News of the World before he was forced to resign over some specific allegations of phone taps against members of the Royal Household.
David Cameron has said that he is "very relaxed" about the issue. The point being that the out of court settlements that News International were forced to make took place after Andy Coulson had already left the editorship.
The problem is not whether or not Mr. Coulson knew about the settlement- the point is whether or not he knew about the phone hacking. The fact is that his denial of knowledge of the settlement is a classic example of misdirecting the media. There is considerable evidence that Mr. Coulson did in fact know that phone hacking was going on- and his statement is a "non-denial, denial".
Under those circumstances David Cameron needs to be a whole lot less relaxed. The fact is that Andy Coulson may yet face criminal charges. Certainly this scandal is considerably more serious than the ridiculous expenses farrago.