Call for jail terms for data thieves

Information Commissioner calls for tougher action on trafficking in personal data

The Information Commissioner today called for prison sentences of up to two years for the illegal buying and selling of personal information. In a report to Parliament entitled “What Price Privacy?” he states his “deep concern that confidential information can too easily be obtained improperly from public and private organisations, causing significant harm and distress to individuals.”

Commissioner Richard Thomas’ report, presented to Parliament under powers granted to him under the Data Protection Act, states that there is a “pervasive and widespread” industry dedicated to buying and selling the personal information of individuals illegally. The main suppliers are private detectives, tracing agents and their operatives, and the biggest buyers journalists, financial institutions, local authorities, estranged spouses and criminals engaged in fraud or intimidation. Victims are often celebrities but can also be ordinary members of the public.

The Commissioner believes that the current penalties devalue what is a serious offence and are too low to have any deterrent effect – highlighting one major case which resulted in only conditional discharges for the perpetrators.