305 journalists used one specific agency in Hampshire to obtain illegal information from the Police National Computer, the DVLA and telephone companies. These 305 journalists worked for a total of 20 national newspapers (ie most of them) and 11 magazines. A staggering 58 worked for one newspaper, 50 for another, 45 for another and 33 for another. The laws of libel prevent me from speculating which newspapers they were, but you can probably guess just as well as I can. In total, 40 lines of enquiry were commissioned by journalists working for magazines, but half of these journalists worked for just one magazine.
The Information Commission was hopping mad and persuaded the government to include a clause in the current Criminal Justice & Immigration Bill to stiffen penalties for such illegal behaviour.
However, I have learned that News International, owned by Rupert Murdoch, and the Mail Group have been lobbying the government hard to remove Clause 76 from the Bill. The Government is wishing to accede to their demands but is trying to persuade the Conservatives and the LibDems to go along with it. They too have no doubt been subjected to the same bully boy tactics by Murdoch and Dacre. The Tories and LibDems must resist the government's overtures. They are being used as a figleaf for the government's embarrassment.
I can now reveal that the Information Commission has got wise to this and tomorrow will launch an explosive grenade into the debate when he will publicly call on the government to stand firm. Below I reprint a statement the Commissioner will release tomorrow (it has been leaked to me), which you have to decode. What it really says is that he is spitting blood and how dare these lilly livered politicians break a solemn undertaking they gave to strengthen the law.
Note: This is Clause 76 of the Criminal Justice & Immigration Bill
Don’t water down penalties for blaggers stealing personal information, says Information Commissioner
The Information Commissioner, Richard Thomas, is today issuing a stark call to politicians to resist attempts to water down new penalties for deliberate breaches of people’s health, financial and other personal details. He is also publishing new guidance for organisations to help them in the event of an accidental data breach.
The ICO has welcomed the government’s commitment to deter the unlawful trade in procuring personal information. Clause 76 of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill, which is currently going through Parliament, will enable courts to impose a custodial sentence on those convicted of existing offences of buying or selling personal data. This is the government’s first legislative opportunity after recent data losses to demonstrate its seriousness in safeguarding people’s personal information.
Richard Thomas, Information Commissioner, said: ‘I am pleased that government is now taking data protection, and the need to prevent security breaches, more seriously. But there have been powerful last-ditch efforts to get clause 76 removed from the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill. There has been widespread support for the government’s decision to strengthen the law and - if data protection is to be taken seriously - it is vital that the government and other parties should stand firm against any possible amendments. I am determined to stop the pernicious illegal market in personal information which our reports exposed.‘Losing half the country’s child benefit records looks to have been a serious mistake, but at least it was accidental. If there is a change of heart on legislation aimed at deliberate security breaches, the government will find it hard to convince people that measures aimed at preventing data loss need to be taken seriously. I know there are concerns in some quarters of the media, but - with a powerful public interest defence - responsible journalists have nothing to fear.
76 Imprisonment for unlawfully obtaining etc. personal data
(1) Section 60 of the Data Protection Act 1998 (c. 29) (penalties for offences under Act) is amended as follows.
(2) In subsection (2) (offences under Act punishable by fine) for “other than section
54A” substitute “other than sections 54A and 55”.
(3) After subsection (3) insert—
“(3A) A person guilty of an offence under section 55 is liable—(a) on summary conviction, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months or to a fine not exceeding the statutory maximum or to both;
(b) on conviction on indictment, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years or to a fine or to both.
(3B) In the application of subsection (3A)(a)—
(a) in England and Wales, in relation to an offence committed before the commencement of section 282(1) of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 (increase in sentencing powers of magistrates’ court from 6 to 12 months for certain offences triable either way), and (b) in Northern Ireland, the reference to 12 months is to be read as a reference to 6 months.”
It will be interesting to see which of the mainstream media takes up this story. I suspect it won't be appearing on any Mail or Times blogs...
PS: Someone has suggested in the blogs this is an April Fool. It most emphatically is not.