In the Media

Call to imprison journalists caught in foul play

PUBLISHED August 10, 2006

JOURNALISTS should face up to two years in prison for paying private detectives to tap telephones or obtain personal information, the Information Commissioner?s Office said yesterday.

The office has a list of 305 journalists who it claims have been named in receipts obtained from its investigations into private detectives.

Although the names have not been published, it said yesterday that it would consider handing the list over to the police if it was requested. David Smith, deputy commissioner for data protection, said that journalists would no longer be able to get away with unlawfully obtaining private details about celebrities or the Royal Family by pleading ignorance.

He said that the commissioner?s office had recently appointed a new head of investigations and had diverted most of its seven-strong team into ?pursuing serious intrusions into people?s privacy? and ?getting convictions?. The office has also asked the Press Complaints Commission, the Association of British Investigators, the security industry and the insurance industry to produce by October action plans on how to clamp down on privacy invasion.

Under the Data Protection Act 1998 journalists face prosecution and a fine of up to ?5,000 if they purchase and disclose unlawfully obtained personal data. But the Department for Constitutional Affairs recently sent out a consultation paper suggesting that the Act should be amended to include prison sentences for the misuse of personal information.

Mr Smith said that the police had not approached the commissioner?s office for the whole list of journalists. The Information Commissioner?s Office would not be required to hand over its list, but would co- operate with any criminal investigation, he said. ?We would consider such a request from the police and would look at why they wanted the information before giving them the list,? a spokesman said.