Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Rampaging blaggers receive slap on the wrist

Lord AshcroftInformation Commissioner Richard Thomas is leading two prosecutions of "blaggers" who illegally obtained personal information for high-profile clients such as newspapers and Wetherspoons (who claim to be unaware the law was being broken). One private detective carried out over 11,000 illegal enquiries into personal information for the UK press. Another has just been convicted on 16 counts of obtaining and selling personal information, and has been sentenced to 150 hours of community service, put on probation for 18 months and ordered to pay £2,000 towards prosecution costs (thanks, Dave!).

If such fraudsters can make tens or hundreds of thousands of pounds and face a small slap on the wrist even if caught, is it any surprise that this is an increasing problem? Richard Thomas is calling for prison sentences of up to two years to be available under the Data Protection Act. Wouldn't a better alternative be a right for the victims of privacy intrusion to bring class action suits with statutory damages of 100% of profits of blaggers and those that employ them?

Will Thomas be naming the 305 journalists and their newspaper and magazine employers? Former Conservative Party chairman Lord Ashcroft used a Freedom of Information Act request to find out that the top newspaper employed 58 of these journalists, and that the top ten journalists were responsible for over 3,000 illicit inquiries. I hope Ashcroft will encourage his colleagues to introduce legislation that will choke off this growing menace.

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