Ofcom is looking into a Sky News journalist's hacking of e-mails of John Darwin, a former teacher and prison officer who turned up alive five years after he was thought to have died in a canoeing accident, The Guardian reported.
Sky News used the hacked e-mails in a story published on the Web and its new channel.
The broadcaster said this month one of its senior executives had authorized a journalist to hack Darwin's e-mails twice and said doing so was in the public interest.
"Ofcom is investigating the fairness and privacy issues raised by Sky News' statement that it had accessed without prior authorization private e-mail accounts during the course of its news investigations," a spokesman for the regulator said.
A Sky News spokeswoman called the hacking "editorially justified" and said the Crown Prosecution Service has said on "rare occasions" it is justified for a journalist to "commit an offense in the public interest."
Sky News also said the broadcasting code states: "Where broadcasters wish to justify an infringement of privacy as warranted, they should be able to demonstrate why, in the particular circumstances of the case, it is warranted … If the reason is that it is in the public interest, then the broadcaster should be able to demonstrate that the public interest outweighs the right to privacy. Examples of public interest would include revealing or detecting crime … "
Darwin was arrested and charged with fraudulently obtaining a passport and claiming money by deception. His wife, Anne, had claimed money from his life insurance. In July 2008, each was sentenced to more than six years in prison.