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.

The Essential Guide to IT Transformation

More from The Register

next story
Just TWO climate committee MPs contradict IPCC: The two with SCIENCE degrees
'Greenhouse effect is real, but as for the rest of it ...'
'Blow it up': Plods pop round for chat with Commonwealth Games tweeter
You'd better not be talking about the council's housing plans
Arrr: Freetard-bothering Digital Economy Act tied up, thrown in the hold
Ministry of Fun confirms: Yes, we're busy doing nothing
Help yourself to anyone's photos FOR FREE, suggests UK.gov
Copyright law reforms will keep m'learned friends busy
Apple smacked with privacy sueball over Location Services
Class action launched on behalf of 100 million iPhone owners
Adam Afriyie MP: Smart meters are NOT so smart
Mega-costly gas 'n' 'leccy totting-up tech not worth it - Tory MP
UK government officially adopts Open Document Format
Microsoft insurgency fails, earns snarky remark from UK digital services head
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.
Consolidation: The Foundation for IT Business Transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.
Backing up Big Data
Solving backup challenges and “protect everything from everywhere,” as we move into the era of big data management and the adoption of BYOD.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.
Why and how to choose the right cloud vendor
The benefits of cloud-based storage in your processes. Eliminate onsite, disk-based backup and archiving in favor of cloud-based data protection.