For the first time courts will be able to jail people who trade in the personal data of others, following a move by the Department for Constitutional Affairs to crack down on the practice.
The decision follows a public consultation on increasing penalties for deliberate and wilful misuse of personal data, and is part of the government's strategy on data sharing to deliver better public services to individuals.
The government has been increasingly concerned about an apparent growth in the trade in personal data.
Current penalties of a fine, under the Data Protection Act, have not proved a strong enough deterrent. These concerns were highlighted in special reports to parliament by the Information Commissioner.
Lord Falconer, secretary of state for constitutional affairs and lord chancellor, said, “We are determined to do all we can to stamp out this intrusive and illegal trade.
“People have a right to have their privacy protected from those who would deliberately misuse it, and I believe the introduction of custodial penalties will be an effective deterrent to those who seek to procure or wilfully abuse personal data.”
He said, “Greater data sharing within the public sector has the potential to be hugely beneficial to the public, but we must ensure the security and integrity of personal data once it has been shared.”
The government intends to amend section 60 of the Data Protection Act to increase the penalties available to the courts. Currently, the maximum punishment is a fine on conviction, which the government intends increasing to jail sentences of between six months and two years.
The government will introduce the amendment to sentencing when parliamentary time becomes available. It is not yet clear when this will be.
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