Was prank call a crime?

Data protection issues surrounding prank calls

Data protection specialists have suggested that the notorious prank call by Australian broadcasters to King Edward VII hospital “could constitute a criminal offence under UK data protection law”.

If so, it is an offence which may soon carry a 2-year prison sentence, if recommendations of the Leveson Inquiry are adopted.

PDP, publishers of the journal Privacy and Data Protection, have suggested that recording and broadcasting the voices of the two nurses the broadcasters spoke to, without the nurses’ consent, involved “potential breaches of Australian data protection law”. They went on to suggest that under UK law the broadcasters’ conduct could amount to “obtaining data by deception.”

This is a reference to the offence under section 55 of the Data Protection Act 1998: obtaining personal data without the consent of the data controller. The offence targets ‘blagging’, usually carried out by posing as a person entitled to personal information.  The maximum sentence for that offence is currently a fine, but one of the Leveson Inquiry recommendations is that government should implement amendments already on the statute book, to increase the sentence to a maximum 2 years in prison.

For commentary by 5RB’s Mark Warby QC on data protection and the prank callers click here.