Royal data breach lands journalist jail time

A journalist has been jailed for tapping the mobile phone voicemail services of royal employees. Clive Goodman was royal editor of the News of the World at the time. That paper's editor, Andy Coulson, has resigned.

Goodman admitted hacking into the phones 487 times in just one eight month spell ending in June of last year. He was sentenced to four months in prison.

Goodman breached the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA), committing a criminal offence. Some of the tactics used by Goodman's associate, footballer turned private investigator Glenn Mulcaire, would also have been likely to breach the Data Protection Act. Mulcaire was also jailed for offences under RIPA.

The case comes in the wake of calls from Information Commissioner Richard Thomas for tougher penalties for journalists who invade people's privacy. Thomas wants people who breach the Data Protection Act to face two years in jail. Currently there can be no jail term because those activities are not criminal acts.

"The current very low penalties under the Data Protection Act for 'blagging' offences which do not involve telecoms interception are not a sufficient deterrent to stop the widespread illegal trade in personal information," said Thomas in the aftermath of Goodman's sentencing.

"Tougher sanctions are required to deter those who obtain financial, health, criminal and similar records through impersonation and similar means. I repeat my call for a maximum two year prison sentence for people who commit the existing crime under the Data Protection Act of unlawfully obtaining or selling people's personal information," he said.

Thomas recently published a report which listed the newspapers that he believes are breaking the law in pursuit of stories. One investigations agency was raided and it was revealed that broadsheet newspapers and magazines were as serious offenders as tabloid papers in the illegal obtaining of information. The Daily Mail topped the list, which also included The Observer and The Sunday Times.

Goodman listened to voicemail messages on aides' phones and was able to break stories about Princes William and Harry. Palace officials became suspicious when stories were written that could not have been leaked in any other manner, such as medical details regarding one of the prince's knee injury.