MELBOURNE — Australian police on Thursday raided the offices of Melbourne newspaper The Age over alleged hacking into a political party's database. The Victoria Police e-crimes squad searched reporters' desks and spoke with editor Paul Ramadge and a number of senior journalists and lawyers, according to the paper's owners, Fairfax Media. "This morning a team of six Victorian police arrived at The Age at Media House in Melbourne," said Fairfax CEO Greg Hywood. "The police have served search warrants and are presently conducting searches of electronic and hard copy files in relation to The Age's reporting of information on an ALP database prior to last year's Victorian election." The database, held by the ruling Labor party, contained secret files on tens of thousands of people, which included sensitive health and financial information that was being accessed by campaign workers. The Age described how the database could be used to search voters by name, address or stance on particular political issues, and contacted a number of people reportedly listed about the information it contained about them. Victoria Police told AFP their investigation related to "the allegation personal details of Victorians were electronically accessed by a media outlet via a confidential political party database without authorisation". But Ramadge said his reporters were approached by a whistleblower with "legitimate concerns" about the content of the database. "That source provided authorised access to the database," he said after the raid. "This was a story with significant public interest -- a powerful, highly influential organisation collecting private information on voters without their knowledge and giving campaign workers, including, it seems, volunteers, access to it." Though the paper was cooperating fully with police, Ramadge said they had "grave concerns" that their source may be identified, something he said would be a breach of media ethics and professional trust. "If the sources for this report are identified through the police searches, even inadvertently, it will be a dark day for journalism," he said. Hywood said Fairfax "absolutely" stood behind its journalists on the story. "I am completely confident that they investigated and reported this story in an entirely proper way," he said. "It would be extremely disappointing if quality journalism, the public interest in the story and the integrity of what we stand for including protecting our sources at all costs suffers because powerful individuals didn't like what we revealed." The raid comes in the wake of the phone hacking scandal in Britain that led to Rupert Murdoch's News of the World being shut down and prompted a review of Australia's print media.
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