Information Commissioner Richard Thomas has called for other journalists who "blag" information to face tougher penalties following the jailing of News of the World Royal editor Clive Goodman.
The tabloid journalist was jailed because of the tough criminal penalties involving the interception of phone calls. Thomas has called for a crackdown on journalists who illegally buy and sell private information.
Thomas said:"Today's sentence sends a very clear signal that breaches of individuals' privacy will be taken seriously by the courts.
"The relevant legislation that deals with intercepting telephone calls without consent – the offence for which Clive Goodman has been convicted – is the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, not the Data Protection Act.
"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. Following the publication of my report last year, the Department for Constitutional Affairs launched a consultation on stiffer penalties and I look forward to hearing the outcome of that consultation shortly.
"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."