European Data Protection Digest

Phone hacking scandal prompts closer look at ICO’s call for jail terms

July 15, 2011

 

A renewed interest in issuing custodial sentences for those who flout UK data protection law has emerged in the wake of the News of the World phone hacking scandal.

In a speech this week, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said those convicted of obtaining personal data by deception should be jailed.

"The Information Commissioner recommended in 2006 that that offence should...attract a custodial sentence," Clegg said. "I think that now...there is a case for looking at this issue again."

In 2006, reports from then Information Commissioner Richard Thomas documented the nature and extent of the illegal trade in personal information and called for jail sentences as a serious deterrent.

The Gordon Brown government tried to introduce prison terms for certain breaches of data protection law, but failed to see the law enacted.

In the House of Commons on Wednesday, Prime Minster David Cameron said the 2006 ICO reports did not receive the attention deserved.

“We…should have made more of those reports, which included some very important detail about what was going wrong in data handling, data theft and the rest of it,” Cameron said.

Government leaders across the globe are following the hacking debacle, which has prompted the privacy commissioners of Australia and New Zealand to recommend password diligence and has spurred U.S. lawmakers to ask for a congressional inquiry.

In the UK, a Judicial Inquiry has been set up.

Prime Minister Cameron told the House of Commons, “We must ensure that the inquiry asks the question, ‘Why were (the reports) ignored, and what are we going to do about it now?’”

Stewart Room, a partner at Field Fisher Waterhouse, told the IAPP Europe Data Protection Digest that “The News of the World scandal has captured the public imagination and the Coalition Government will have to react.”

Room added, “In my view, it is inconceivable that the government will fail to act. The introduction of jail sentences is now inevitable."

—IAPP staff