The government has proposed jail sentences of up to two years for people who illegally trade in private data.
The move follows a call for prison terms made by information commissioner Richard Thomas in a report presented to parliament in May using special powers under the Data Protection Act.
The report, What Price Privacy, revealed evidence of a “pervasive and widespread” industry, in which personal data is bought and sold.
Constitutional affairs secretary Lord Falcolner has now launched a public consultation on plans to beef up the penalties for trading in personal information, which are currently limited to fines under the Data Protection Act.
The Information Commissioner welcomed the consultation. “Tougher penalties should not be seen as a barrier to data sharing in the public and private sector. Electronic government initiatives which improve public services show that information can be shared in entirely acceptable ways. However, it is important that the government and other public bodies retain public trust and confidence.
“People’s personal information must be kept securely. These proposals will help by ensuring that anyone who might be tempted to misuse personal information for private gain knows that they could go to prison if they do so.”
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