Feeds

Custodial offence for deliberate invasion of data protection? Forget it!

You had your chance, Labour

Boost IT visibility and business value

I must confess that I find it rich that New Labour Ministers, who were in government for more than a decade, are now huffing and puffing about their “phone inboxes being hacked”. The sad truth is that, in government, they could have done a great deal to protect individual privacy by making such hacking a custodial offence.

In short, they failed to implement an offence that would have extended to a very large number of situations - well beyond the difficult issue of when (or whether) it is in the public interest for the press to hack into individual voicemail inboxes.

I also make a prediction: the custodial section 55 offence in the Data Protection Act is not going to happen for the foreseeable future.

In 2006, the Information Commissioner published details of the scale of the problem. In his documents What Price Privacy and What Price Privacy, Now (pdf), the Commissioner outlined how a range of organisations were obtaining personal data by deception.

Although this blog focuses on the press, the problem of unlawful obtaining was endemic across a range of industries. The current S.55 offence usually offers a minor punishment of a fine; it is not a recordable offence, and those successfully prosecuted do not have the indignity of providing a DNA sample or fingerprints. This gives the impression that the offence is of little importance to society.

In relation to the press, the Commissioner documented that following the invoice trail of a few private investigators who had delivered services to the following tabloid newspapers:

Daily/Sunday Mail had paid for 1,218 investigations to be undertaken by Private Investigators on behalf of up to 91 different journalists. The Daily/Sunday Mirror ordered 824 investigations on behalf of up to 70 journalists. The Sunday People ordered 802 investigations involving up to 50 journalists, and the News of the World (the paper of current interest) had ordered 228 transactions of up to 33 journalists.

The evidence above suggests there was a large number of invasions of privacy but the facts cannot be proven. For instance, if there were an investigation into a target politician, the fact of the investigation (as proved by the invoice) would not reveal evidence as to the methods employed by the investigator. It is very unlikely that the fact of “hacking into voicemail inboxes" would appear on any invoice!

However, the number of investigations undertaken by a handful or private investigators at the behest of tabloid newspapers is simply staggering. They show a systemic use of this kind of investigation and it is inconceivable that all newspaper editors appear to be ignorant of the methods employed by their contracted agents. After all, in total 305 journalists had commissioned about 3,500 investigations into individuals. So is the News of the World's claim that there was an isolated case of hacking undertaken by a rogue reporter credible? I leave you to answer that one.

Build a business case: developing custom apps

More from The Register

next story
Hello, police, El Reg here. Are we a bunch of terrorists now?
Do Brits risk arrest for watching beheading video nasty? We asked the fuzz
Snowden on NSA's MonsterMind TERROR: It may trigger cyberwar
Plus: Syria's internet going down? That was a US cock-up
UK government accused of hiding TRUTH about Universal Credit fiasco
'Reset rating keeps secrets on one-dole-to-rule-them-all plan', say MPs
Caught red-handed: UK cops, PCSOs, specials behaving badly… on social media
No Mr Fuzz, don't ask a crime victim to be your pal on Facebook
Felony charges? Harsh! Alleged Anon hackers plead guilty to misdemeanours
US judge questions harsh sentence sought by prosecutors
e-Borders fiasco: Brits stung for £224m after US IT giant sues UK govt
Defeat to Raytheon branded 'catastrophic result'
Yes, but what are your plans if a DRAGON attacks?
Local UK gov outs most ridiculous FoI requests...
EU justice chief blasts Google on 'right to be forgotten'
Don't pretend it's a freedom of speech issue – interim commish
This'll end well: US govt says car-to-car jibber-jabber will SAVE lives
Department of Transportation starts cogs turning for another wireless comms standard
Munich considers dumping Linux for ... GULP ... Windows!
Give a penguinista a hug, the Outlook's not good for open source's poster child
prev story

Whitepapers

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.
Top 10 endpoint backup mistakes
Avoid the ten endpoint backup mistakes to ensure that your critical corporate data is protected and end user productivity is improved.
Top 8 considerations to enable and simplify mobility
In this whitepaper learn how to successfully add mobile capabilities simply and cost effectively.
Rethinking backup and recovery in the modern data center
Combining intelligence, operational analytics, and automation to enable efficient, data-driven IT organizations using the HP ABR approach.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.