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UK businesses that fail to adhere to data protection laws face criminal prosecution following the creation of a new hit squad.

Earlier this week the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) - custodians of the UK's data protection laws - set up a new Regulatory Action Division (RAD) to finger companies that illegally store personal information.

The RAD will keep tabs on firms that collect, use and keep personal information, to ensure that it complies with the Data Protection Act 1998.

Said Assistant Commissioner (Regulatory Action) David Smith in a statement: "Changes in the structure of the Information Commissioner's Office that have come into effect this week are designed to make life tougher for the minority of businesses that don't take their data protection obligations seriously.

Previously complaints were handled by a compliance team, but now for the first time the ICO has teams of specialists devoted solely to using the Commissioner's powers to bring about compliance with the law.

"Negotiation will usually be our first option, but we won't hesitate to take legal action swiftly against businesses where the circumstances warrant it," he said.

The Information Commissioner's Office said there had been an "explosion" in the number of businesses holding personal information thus increasing the chances for the information to be misused. ®

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