Information commissioner Christopher Graham has urged the government to give his organisation the power to jail those found guilty of stealing personal data, as the fallout from the phone hacking scandal continues.
Speaking to Bloomberg, Graham said that the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) had been asking for this power since 2009 to provide a more effective deterrent against the theft of personal information.
"Unless people realise they can go to prison, it seems like a victimless crime. The current penalties don't amount to very much. All I want is an effective deterrent to the routine trashing of individuals' rights under the Data Protection Act," he said.
Graham added that journalists who break the law will still be able to claim that they acted in the public interest, and that the move will not have a "chilling effect" on investigative journalism.
The statements come after an article by Graham in Prospect published on 20 July in which he further outlined his argument for the need for jail sentences.
"One result of the current police investigations and the public inquiries must be a custodial penalty for breaches of section 55: up to two years on indictment and up to six months on summary conviction," he said.
"Armed with that, the ICO could investigate breaches more speedily, and the dealers in data would know they faced the full range of possible court sanctions, not just the small fines that can be dismissed as a business expense."
Currently the ICO can fine organisations and individuals only for data breaches. In the most recent case, two former T-Mobile employees were fined £75,000 in June for stealing and selling data.
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