Those who misuse personal data for profit could be imprisoned for up to two years under new plans in a Government consultation launched today.
It proposes increasing penalties available to the courts to deter people who are guilty of trying to profit from illegal trade in personal information or who deliberately give out personal data to those who have no right to see it.
The consultation explains that the Government has been increasingly concerned about an apparent increase in trade in personal data. It says that current penalties of a fine in the Data Protection Act do not provide a sufficiently strong deterrent, albeit potentially unlimited. These concerns were highlighted in an Information Commissioner's Office special report to Parliament, What Price Privacy, in May this year.
The Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs and Lord Chancellor, Lord Falconer, said: "Greater data-sharing within the public sector has the potential to be hugely beneficial to the public – as individuals and to society as a whole. It is wholly compatible with proper respect for individuals' privacy. One of the essential ways of maintaining that compatibility is to ensure the security and integrity of personal data once it has been shared."
Lord Falconer added that the proposal to change the Data Protection Act will not result in penalties for front-line public sector staff who, while sharing data for legitimate reasons, make an error of judgement.
The consultation is open until 30th October 2006.