Prison for Data Misuse?

October 18, 2009

On 15 October, the government launched a public consultation on whether to introduce prison sentences for those found guilty of offences related to obtaining, disclosing, or selling personal data. The consultation paper, the knowing or reckless misuse of personal data: introducing custodial sentences, proposes increasing the current maximum penalty from a fine to up to two years’ imprisonment. It can be accessed at

The proposed new measure could see those convicted imprisoned for up to two years if the case is heard in the Crown Court, and up to 12 months if heard in a magistrates’ court.

Justice Minister Michael Wills, said: ‘The knowing and reckless misuse of personal data is a serious criminal offence. We have been monitoring this illegal trade closely with the help of the Information Commissioner and as there is a great deal of concern about the protection of personal data we think the time has now come to consider a more robust penalty. We are consulting on whether to enable the courts to impose a custodial sentence. A prison term would act as a strong deterrent, ensuring that those who commit this serious criminal offence and seek to profit from the illegal trade in personal data are punished appropriately.’

The government indicates that it does not wish to restrict legitimate data processing in the public interest. It states that legitimate and responsible journalism has an important place within a democratic society and that it firmly supports the freedom of the press. The consultation will therefore also look at whether an additional defence should be introduced for those acting for the purposes of journalism, art or literature with a view to publishing such material in the reasonable belief that the obtaining, disclosing or selling of the information is in the public interest.

The consultation closes on 7 January 2010.