Feeds

Prison for privacy crooks

ICO calls for clampdown on data black market

5 things you didn’t know about cloud backup

Information commissioner Richard Thomas has called for prison sentences of up to two years for the illegal buying and selling of personal information.

He made the call along with the presentation of a report on the issue to Parliament on 12 May. This is based on concerns that confidential information can too easily be obtained improperly from public and private organisations, causing significant harm and distress to individuals.

A spokesperson for the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) told Government Computing News that it has evidence that information on individuals is being illegally sold by some public sector employees.

"If people really want information from a public authority they will try to bribe a junior official," the spokesperson said. "The thing for public authorities is to watch out for it and make sure their staff know it is a criminal offence.

"That is why we are calling for the two year prison sentence."

The spokesperson added that there is also a problem with some people trying to obtain information by pretending to be someone else, and that public authorities sometimes unwittingly encourage the abuse.

"We think some of the buyers of information are public authorities, who are often trying to chase up debts and subcontract it to a private detective, who in turn are using illegal means to get information."

The report, titled "What price privacy?", highlights the existence of an industry devoted to illegally buying and selling people's personal information, such as current addresses, details of car ownership, ex-directory telephone numbers or records of calls made, criminal records and bank account details.

It arises from investigations carried out by the ICO sometimes using search warrant powers. Documents seized revealed evidence of a large scale market in the trading of personal information.

The ICO said penalties are low and do not have a deterrent effect. One major case resulted in conditional discharges for the perpetrators.

Richard Thomas said: "People care about their privacy and have a right to expect that their personal details should remain secure from those with no right to see them. Disclosure of even apparently innocuous personal information can be highly damaging in some situations – such as the address of a woman fleeing domestic violence.

"Organisations can also be victims of this pernicious trade. Advances in technology enable public and private bodies to hold vast amounts of information about us, but they need to be fully aware of the risks of unauthorised disclosure and take strong precautions. Otherwise the benefits will disappear if companies and government lose the trust and confidence of customers, staff and citizens.

"Plugging the gaps becomes ever more urgent as the government rolls out its programme of joined up public services and joined up computer systems.

"Low penalties devalue this serious data protection offence in the public mind and mask the seriousness of the crime, even within the judicial system. They do little to deter those who seek to buy or supply private information that should remain private. We are proposing the introduction of a prison sentence of up to two years for people convicted by the crown courts and up to six months for those found guilty by magistrates.

"The aim is not to send more people to prison but to discourage all who might be tempted to engage in this trade – whether as suppliers or buyers. Those who need or want personal information must use legal methods."

Thomas plans to publish a follow up report in six months to record responses, reactions and progress towards implementing the report's proposals. He also hopes that the issue will be raised in Parliament.

This article was originally published at Kablenet.

Kablenet's GC weekly is a free email newsletter covering the latest news and analysis of public sector technology. To register click here.

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops

More from The Register

next story
Ice cream headache as black hat hacks sack Dairy Queen
I scream, you scream, we all scream 'DATA BREACH'!
Goog says patch⁵⁰ your Chrome
64-bit browser loads cat vids FIFTEEN PERCENT faster!
NIST to sysadmins: clean up your SSH mess
Too many keys, too badly managed
JLaw, Kate Upton exposed in celeb nude pics hack
100 women victimised as Apple iCloud accounts reportedly popped
Scratched PC-dispatch patch patched, hatched in batch rematch
Windows security update fixed after triggering blue screens (and screams) of death
Researchers camouflage haxxor traps with fake application traffic
Honeypots sweetened to resemble actual workloads, complete with 'secure' logins
Attack flogged through shiny-clicky social media buttons
66,000 users popped by malicious Flash fudging add-on
New Snowden leak: How NSA shared 850-billion-plus metadata records
'Federated search' spaffed info all over Five Eyes chums
Three quarters of South Korea popped in online gaming raids
Records used to plunder game items, sold off to low lifes
Oz fed police in PDF redaction SNAFU
Give us your metadata, we'll publish your data
prev story

Whitepapers

Endpoint data privacy in the cloud is easier than you think
Innovations in encryption and storage resolve issues of data privacy and key requirements for companies to look for in a solution.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Advanced data protection for your virtualized environments
Find a natural fit for optimizing protection for the often resource-constrained data protection process found in virtual environments.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.
Next gen security for virtualised datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.