Political cyber crimes are going to be a big part of our future. The information age makes that so. With so much political activity occurring digitally, we can expect that hacking, privacy and surveillance issues are going to be central to the way the political system works. And policing such crimes is also going to be crucial. That's why the latest allegations of Dirty Politics, aired in the weekend, are worth taking seriously.

The latest mini-scandal over blogger Cameron Slater was broadcast on Saturday in The Nation's 14-minute investigative story More Dirty Politics?. For a shorter version of this, see Lisa Owen's four-minute TV3 News item, Slater accused of offering blog hack payment.

The allegations are made by IT professional, Ben Rachinger, who was formerly close to Whaleoil blogger Cameron Slater. Rachinger claims to be a whistleblower on the nefarious Dirty Politics-style cyber activities of Slater. Rachinger says that he took money from Slater but never undertook the activities that were expected of him. Instead he turned on Slater and started collecting evidence against him.

One of the activities allegedly paid for by Slater was a request to break into The Standard blog site in order to find out the identities of the anonymous authors, in the belief that they would be revealed as Labour MPs or parliamentary staff. For more on this see Patrice Dougan's Herald article, Right-wing blogger accused of paying off hacker, which is the most comprehensive written report to come out of The Nation's investigation.

It's hard to see whether the story has legs or not. Unsurprisingly, opposition politicians are pushing the issue in the media. For example, Andrew Little has been attempting to connect the controversy with the National Government: "Cameron Slater is probably the most toxic influence on New Zealand politics that we've ever had, and a most unwelcome one... It beggars belief any politician - like John Key and Judith Collins - wants to have anything to do with him - see TV3's Andrew Little: 'Toxic' Cameron Slater not wanted in NZ politics.

Cameron Slater's response

Cameron Slater has essentially gone to ground on the allegations, putting out a rather unusual media release. His statement was merely tweeted as a picture of text, but the full text has been transcribed, and is available on Greg Presland's blog post on The Standard - see: Cameron Slater's statement on Ben Rachinger.

Despite the statement's insistence that Slater would not talk to the media about the allegations, further responses from the blogger are reported in Laura Walters' news report, Cameron Slater denies hacking allegations. Slater is quoted as saying the allegations are "total and utter bulls***".

In terms of the money he gave to Rachinger, Slater says: "It would be $500 here and $500 there... I'm a generous person, I help people out when they're in trouble but sometimes people bite the hand that helps them out". He told the reporter that the loans "had been taken out of context".

Interestingly, Slater has not posted his statement on his blog, and any related comments being made on the blog appear to quickly get deleted.

Reaction to Slater

The reaction to Slater's statement has been entirely sceptical. Rival blogger Martyn Bradbury of the Daily Blog is incredulous: "So, while Slater was publicly pleading poverty and asking his readers to donate money on Whaleoil, he was 'donating' $9100 to Ben Rachinger, but the text messages between the two of them where Slater appears to be procuring a cyber crime aren't real and Cam is actually quite worried for dear Ben?" - see: Slater's bizarre response to the allegations of hacking.

Bradbury has four questions for Slater: "1: Did Cam pay Ben $9100? 2: If he did, why? 3: Are the messages from Slater? 4: Who were the funders?"

Blogger Pete George analyses Slater's response, drawing attention to what he sees as Slater's use of deflection to avoid the allegations: "Slater has made this all about Rachinger. He has not addressed any of the claims, not any of the communications that have been revealed, nor any of the payments made to Rachinger. Slater has not denied any specifics about trying to solicit hacking of The Standard. He refuses to respond, while trying to dump all of the attention on Rachinger" - see: Rachinger tweets Slater statement on his claims.

See also George's blog post, Slater's statement on Rachinger looks dirty, which goes through Slater's statement and points to various inconsistencies and apparent contradictions, and The Standard's 'not Labour' problem, which discusses the connection between The Standard and the Labour Party.

Many of the claims in Slater's statements do appear rather implausible - especially the idea that his financial loans and personal guidance were given altruistically. Journalist Beck Eleven (@beckeleven) expressed her sarcasm on Twitter: "What? So we can ask Slater for loans and mental health support now? And he's happy to do that for people? Totally misjudged the guy".

Policing of cyber crimes

The most revealing new information about the Dirty Politics story is the news that the police are actually investigating Cameron Slater over the claims. The outcome of this could be significant. As Martyn Bradbury says, "The magnitude of criminal offending alleged in the hacking scandal enveloping Cameron Slater could well spell the end of Whaleoil" - see: Could this really be the end of Cameron Slater?.

Bradbury argues that a conviction - and possibly a prison sentence - would depend on "whether Cameron paid Ben, what the $9100 was paid for, and whether it is Cameron who sent the text messages".

Yet, there's scepticism about whether the police are taking the allegations seriously enough. Nicky Hager's barrister, Felix Geiringer ?(@BarristerNZ) tweeted: "So, the NZ Police have been sitting on the Rachinger case for about 4 months. #DirtyPolitics #DirtyPolice".

The beef is that Nicky Hager had his house raided soon after Slater's complaint to police about the publication of Dirty Politics. Martyn Bradbury has elaborated on what appears to be an inconsistent approach from authorities: "Slater, who has been outed for dirty politics get his complaint against an investigative reporter actioned within 36 days that sees that investigative reporter's house searched and evidence of police corruption seized, yet a complaint where evidence is available that clearly suggests a crime being plotted and paid for and it's taken 3 months with no end in sight? In other countries this is called out right political corruption of the Police force. In NZ it will probably get ignored" - see: Compare how long Slater's complaint gets investigated to investigations against him.

Existing material about the Rachinger allegations

The Nation has served to get Ben Rachinger's Dirty Politics story out to the wider public. But the material was already out in the open, mainly though Rachinger blogging about it all in April. His incredibly comprehensive blog posts have since been deleted. But others have attempted to make sense of his information.

Possibly the most intelligent and in depth analysis of Rachinger's claims can be found on the blog site of academic Matthew Dentith, who specialises in "conspiracy theories" - see: The @B3nRaching3r Allegations - Part One, Part Two, Part Three, and Part Four - the last, of which, is particularly recommended.

You can also listen to Dentith's 54-minute podcast discussion: Episode 49 - The @B3nRaching3r Allegations

On the Scoop site, Alastair Thompson has tried to make sense of it all - see: "I Am Rawshark" - Ben Rachinger's sequel to Dirty Politics.

And blogger Carrie Stoddart-Smith has written two very good posts: The Rachinger posts, and The follow-up: The Rachinger posts.

So is Ben Rachinger's story credible? According to The Nation producer Tim Watkin: "Rachinger is not without fault, but we found him credible in this story and the proof he offered compelling" - see: Dirty Politics 2.0.

This latest Slater controversy might appear rather irrelevant, "beltway", too convoluted, or even crazy. Some might simply dismiss it as "old news". But it is a serious topic that deserves proper attention. As with Nicky Hager's Dirty Politics publication, it relates to the health of democracy, the media and the blogosphere.

Finally, if none of the above is of concern to you, or you just want to hear the other side of the story, you've got your chance to join Cameron Slater in his own Decade of Dirt party on Wednesday night, which celebrates his blog's tenth birthday. Tickets are available for $150. According to Whaleoil, "Certain MPs, media and B and C-list celebs will be having their spot in the sun that evening", with a suggestion that John Banks and Maurice Williamson will be in attendance - see: We're throwing a party: Whaleoil's "Decade of Dirt".