Information Commissioner Richard Thomas this week called for more journalists who obtain secret information to face the prospect of jail, following the imprisonment of the News of the World’s Clive Goodman.
This week the Government completed a public consultation over proposals to toughen up the Data Protection Act so that those who buy and sell private information could be jailed for up to two years. Currently the maximum penalty under the Act is a fine of £5,000.
Goodman faced jail because his offence – of intercepting mobile phone messages – was covered by the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act.
Following the jailing of Goodman, Thomas said that the sentence ‘sends a very clear signal that breaches of individuals’ privacy will be taken seriously by the courts”. He added: ‘The current very low penalties under the Data Protection Act for ‘blagging’ offences, which do not involve telecoms interception, are not a sufficient deterrent to stop the widespread illegal trade in personal information. ‘Tougher sanctions are required to deter those who obtain financial, health, criminal and similar records through impersonation and similar means. ‘I repeat my call for a maximum two-year prison sentence for people who commit the existing crime under the Data Protection Act of unlawfully obtaining or selling people’s personal information. ‘My report, ‘What Price Privacy?’, drew attention to the illegal methods that some agents use to obtain personal information on behalf of journalists, financial institutions and so on. ‘Information obtained improperly, very often by means of deception, can cause significant harm and distress to individuals.
‘There is a clear public interest defence in the Data Protection Act which means that investigative journalists and others exposing public malpractice have nothing to fear.”