The News of the World employed only 19 of the 305 journalists identified by the Information Commissioners Office (see page 9 of “What Price Privacy Now?”) as using the services of Glenn Mulcaire and his colleagues. It also accounted for only 182 of the 3,754 transactions that were positively identified.
How much of what is currently being blamed on the News of the World was recordied for them and how much was recorded for other clients? And if the News of World really did commission what is claimed, what were the others commissioning?
And what about the other firms of investigators who were neither investigated nor prosecuted?
Without the co-operation of the current management of the News of the World the quarry of evidence would probably have remained unmined. Was that co-operation foolish or does it clear the desks for taking action against those who have not yet co-operated?
Can we now hope for a public enquiry that will disentangle the current witch hunt (designed mainly to embarrass the Government and block the Sky take-over) from the underlying scandal – and lead to the reforms called for in the ICO’s report to Parliament “What Price Privacy?”. These were subsequently supported by almost all respondents to the Ministry of Justice consultation on the knowing or reckless mis-use of personal data but then blocked.
If so, can we then expect to see jail sentances for those who sell the details of crash victims to ambulance hunting law firms?
And what about those who sell the details of on-line customers without their permission?
It has taken five years for the fuse that Richard Thomas lit when he was Information Commissioner to reach the powder kegs.
The implications for the on-line world are profound.
Next week we have the first meeting of the leadership team for the Information Society Alliance (EURIM) study on Information and Identity Governance. I could not have hoped for a better lead in – other than perhaps a sales list for extracts from the lost HMRC discs collated with passwords and e-mail addresses from more recent leaks from well-known on-line gaming and transaction services.
However, the knee-jerk reactions will almost certainly do more harm than good.
The time may well have come for regulatory rationalisation to clarify what is and what is not good practice, in which circumstances, and to hold miscreants to account.
But can that actually be done in such a way that we are happy to live the consequences?
And who do we trust to lead such a rationalisation, bearing in mind that government-backed regulatory regimes have a tendency to decay over time?
This leads me back to my recurrent theme of tension between merchants and warlords through the ages
Is competiton the answer?
Remember Screaming Lord Sutch’s profound question: Why is there only one Monopolies and Mergers Commission?