Data watchdog says abusers should face jail

The Information Commissioner has called for prison sentences for data abuse offenders. The UK’s data protection watchdog this week called for prison sentences for people found guilty of serious misuse of confidential personal information.

The move follows high profile cases this year, including the prosecution of Ian Kerr for running a construction industry-backed service that blacklisted trade union and safety activists. He received a £5,000 fine.

The Daily Mail reported that Information Commissioner Christopher Graham, who took up his post in June this year, dismissed the penalties currently available to judges under the Data Protection Act as ‘pathetic’ and said that legislation could be tightened to give them the option of custodial sentences by April next year.

Mr Graham said the Kerr case, when his office shut down the company running an illegal blacklist of construction workers, had also led to only a small fine for those responsible. He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I think for the most blatant and reckless examples of people playing fast and loose with private information, a custodial sentence is certainly appropriate. The DPA is supposed to safeguard confidential personal information, but the penalties in the Act are simply inappropriate for the activities going on today.”

He added: “In the case of the construction industry database, which we closed down earlier this year, we have got hundreds of workers who were denied jobs because they were blacklisted because they were on a database and the guy who was running that got a very modest fine in the magistrates’ court. Here’s a blatant example of a business making a lot of money by trading in people’s personal data, which I believe parliament could stop if we activated a custodial sentence for the worst offenders.”

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