In the Media

Criminals who steal personal details should face jail, say MPs

PUBLISHED October 27, 2011

?150 fines 'inadequate' to deter criminals from breaking data protection laws in lucrative personal claims market Criminals who break data protection laws and obtain personal details by deception should face jail, MPs said today. The Commons justice select committee backed calls from the information commissioner, Christopher Graham, for tougher sentences, claiming fines of about ?150 were an "inadequate" deterrent compared with the financial rewards on offer. The MPs also welcomed the government's commitment to ban referral fees in personal injury cases, stating that an outright ban along with jail sentences would "increase the deterrent and reduce the financial incentives for such offences". In September the government announced it wanted to help stem rising insurance costs by banning referral fees in personal injury claim cases. The fees, highlighted by former Labour cabinet minister Jack Straw in June, are paid to claims management companies, garages and insurance companies that provide details of accidents ? often car crashes ? to personal injury lawyers. The business is estimated to be worth ?3bn a year, and successful claims are paid in most cases by insurance policies. Insurers have covered the cost by passing it on to policyholders in the form of higher premiums. In reviewing the proposed ban, the Commons committee said it was struck by "the range of illegal behaviour that referral fees can reward", from individuals stealing data, to companies breaching the Data Protection Act, and the sending of spam text messages to mobile phones. "Clearly, a system which makes criminality so profitable needs to be changed," the committee's report stated. The MPs also called for the commissioner to be given greater powers to compel private sector organisations to undergo information audits, saying such moves might have helped tackle the issues around the payment of referral fees sooner. "We are concerned that the information commissioner's lack of inspection power is limiting his ability to investigate, identify problems and prevent breaches of the Data Protection Act, particularly in the insurance and healthcare sectors," the committee said. A Ministry of Justice spokeswoman said: "People who break data protection laws can currently face an unlimited fine. If they have also committed other offences, such as fraud or unlawfully intercepting communications, they could also face a lengthy prison sentence. "We are aware the information commissioner has called for prison sentences to be made available for data protection breaches. The government is keeping this issue under review, and we will look at the justice committee's report with interest." The government's proposals will be debated in the Commons next week and, if successfully passed, will be added to the legal aid, sentencing and punishment of offenders bill which is currently on its way through parliament. Consumer affairs Insurance Motoring Information commissioner Crime Mark King © 2011 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds