Datonomy red faced over Red Tape Day post

Claire Walker

Datonomy has a confession – and correction – to make. In my 6 April post, I announced the introduction of custodial sentences for the Section 55 offence of unlawfully obtaining personal data. This announcement was, of course, somewhat premature, as well-informed Datonomy readers will have spotted. My thanks to Osborne Clarke’s eagle-eyed Head of Marketing and Privacy Law, Stephen Groom, for his most diplomatic email on this subject…
I would love to pretend that my unilateral introduction of custodial sentences was a sophisticated, if belated, April Fool’s joke. But alas, it was just plain sloppy research on my part – a failure to check the statute book, no doubt fuelled by a deep conviction (no pun intended) on my part that – because both the current Government (in its October 2009 consultation paper)and the ICO (in its response document) support the new penalties – it was a “given” that these would form part of new enforcement package delivered to the ICO on Red Tape Day.
However, on closer inspection, I see that the Ministry of Justice has yet to publish the response to the consultation (which closed on 7 January) even though this was scheduled for no later than 31 January. The latest edition of Privacy Laws and Business confirms that the response has, indeed, been postponed – the MOJ is still “considering the responses” and has informed PLB that “it would publish its response in due course”.
As Datonomy readers may already know, the power to introduce custodial sentences for Section 55 offences is already sitting on the statute book by virtue of Section 77 of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008 (see Part 5 of that Act). However, there is still the small matter of the ministerial order required (making the necessary amendments to the Data Protection Act) in order to make these sentences a reality.
So, will the next Government grant the ICO’s dearest wish and put data thieves behind bars? A topical question indeed for the week in which the major parties reveal their manifestos. Obviously, if this Datonomist were a political party, it would be high up on her manifesto. But then again, if this Datonomist were a politician, you might be forgiven for not believing anything she said…
So, I trust that you will forgive my momentary lapse in accuracy. I look forward to bringing you further (and more accurate) updates on amendments to the DPA in due course, and look forward to the continued vigilance and engagement of our valued Datonomy readers.

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