Community orders for data protection breaches?

'Too much focus on prison' says ICO

Journalists prosecuted for offences under the Data Protection Act could be given community orders, including curfew orders, if existing amendments to the Act are brought into force, as proposed by the Leveson Report.

Prison or fines are not the only sentencing options, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has pointed out.

Lord Justice Leveson recommended that government should implement sections 77 – 78 of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008, which make provision for offences under s 55 of the Data Protection Act to carry a prison sentence. These were controversial amendments promoted by the ICO, but which have lain on the statute book unimplemented for over 4 years.

In its response to the Leveson report the ICO welcomed the Report’s recommendation that, on the basis, the Justice Secretary should ensure that sentencing guidelines for data protection offences are drawn up by the Sentencing Council.

The Commissioner’s Office said “The debate around section 55 has been too much focused on the possibility of prison for the gravest offences and too little on the alternatives for the almost routine offending which characterises the behaviour the ICO seeks to stop.”

Where a prison sentence is possible, a wide range of less draconian measures can be imposed.  The ICO observed:

The possibility of a custodial sentence opens up a range of lesser penalties that are not currently available… Community … orders, curfews and tagging may be more effective in their deterrent power than small fines mitigated by an offender’s modest ability to pay.”

For a related 5RB article see: Was prank call a crime?