Feeds

Personal data blaggers should go to jail, MPs say

People who 'blag' personal info or sell it on should face prison – committee

A report by the Justice Committee suggests that fines do little to discourage breaches of the Data Protection Act (DPA) because the financial rewards of doing so can be so great.

"Using deception to obtain personal information or selling it on without permission are serious offences that cause great harm. Magistrates and judges need to be able to hand out custodial sentences when serious misuses of personal information come to light," said committee chairman Sir Alan Beith.

He added that although Parliament had provided the power to jail data protection offenders, ministers had not yet brought those powers into force.

The DPA states that it is generally unlawful for a person to "knowingly or recklessly without the consent of the data controller to obtain or disclose personal data or the information contained in personal data, or procure the disclosure to another person of the information contained in personal data" without the consent of those who control the data.

Under the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act, the Secretary of State has the power to introduce new regulations that would allow a prison sentence to be available where a person unlawfully obtains personal data with the consent of the Information Commissioner. This power has not yet been brought into force, though.

The report said that fines under the DPA were usually much lower than permitted because judges and magistrates must take into account the offender's ability to pay. This meant that some fines were as low as £50 per offence, the report said.

"It is clear to us that the current penalties for [these offences] are inadequate. If people can make more money from a single offence than the fine which would be imposed for such an offence, then there is no deterrent," the report said.

It added that a fine was not an appropriate sentence in circumstances were the data disclosed endangered or traumatised the victim.

Last month Information Commissioner Christopher Graham, the UK's data protection watchdog, told the Committee that the courts should be able to issue jail sentences to those who engage in blagging activities.

"It beggars belief that – in an age where our personal information is being stored and accessed by more organisations than ever – the penalties for seriously abusing the system still do not include the possibility of a prison sentence, even in the most serious cases," he said.

The report added that the Information Commissioner needed the power to force private sector organisations to undergo information audits.

"In the wake of the controversy over referral fees, it is noteworthy that no insurance companies have agreed to an audit," the report said.

It added that current proposals to ban referral fees in personal injury cases should be extended to all other types of case.

"Referral fees reward a range of behaviour and banning them, together with introducing custodial sentences for breaches of the Data Protection Act, would have the twin effect of both increasing the deterrent and reducing the financial incentives for these offences," the report said.

Data protection specialist Marc Dautlich of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com, agreed with the Committee that stronger penalties were needed.

"The current trade offs for those engaged in using deception to obtain personal information is simple: the profits typically far outweigh the penalty. The consequences for victims of the offence can also be very serious. The sanction should be correspondingly serious and that means a custodial sentence," he said.

"This is already the case for activities that are sometimes committed in parallel (bribery and fraud, for example) and the power is already there in the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act, it just needs to be commenced. I would agree with the Commissioner and the Report that the case for custodial sentences is overwhelming," he said.

Copyright © 2011, OUT-LAW.com

OUT-LAW.COM is part of international law firm Pinsent Masons.

More from The Register

next story
Phones 4u slips into administration after EE cuts ties with Brit mobe retailer
More than 5,500 jobs could be axed if rescue mission fails
Israeli spies rebel over mass-snooping on innocent Palestinians
'Disciplinary treatment will be sharp and clear' vow spy-chiefs
Apple CEO Tim Cook: TV is TERRIBLE and stuck in the 1970s
The iKing thinks telly is far too fiddly and ugly – basically, iTunes
Huawei ditches new Windows Phone mobe plans, blames poor sales
Giganto mobe firm slams door shut on Microsoft. OH DEAR
Phones 4u website DIES as wounded mobe retailer struggles to stay above water
Founder blames 'ruthless network partners' for implosion
Found inside ISIS terror chap's laptop: CELINE DION tunes
REPORT: Stash of terrorist material found in Syria Dell box
Show us your Five-Eyes SECRETS says Privacy International
Refusal to disclose GCHQ canteen menus and prices triggers Euro Human Rights Court action
prev story

Whitepapers

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops
Balancing user privacy and privileged access, in accordance with compliance frameworks and legislation. Evaluating any potential remote control choice.
Saudi Petroleum chooses Tegile storage solution
A storage solution that addresses company growth and performance for business-critical applications of caseware archive and search along with other key operational systems.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.
Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk
A single remote control platform for user support is be key to providing an efficient helpdesk. Retain full control over the way in which screen and keystroke data is transmitted.