Wednesday, August 4, 1999 Published at 10:35 GMT 11:35 UK
Credit agencies face watchdog action
The agencies can supply information for a nominal fee
The government's watchdog for information held on computer is considering legal action against two credit reference agencies.
The move follows an investigation by BBC Radio 5 Live which showed it is possible to obtain detailed information about the personal finances of any individual for just £2.
The two credit reference agencies - Experian in Nottingham and Glasgow-based Equifax - are multi-million pound companies.
But the BBC investigation has shown that poor procedures within the companies can allow any individual to gain access illegally to the confidential financial records of complete strangers.
One of the credit reference companies, Experian, supplied financial details of third parties - including people who happened to live at the same address and other family members.
In their investigation, BBC reporters were able to obtain a rundown of mortgage and credit card balances and monthly outgoings.
Member of Parliament Paul Flynn allowed reporters to use his name for checks.
Mr Flynn, the Labour MP for Newport West and a campaigner for tighter regulation of financial companies, said: "This is an outrage which could leave individuals open to blackmail."
Elizabeth France, the Data Protection Registrar, has promised to investigate the companies concerned with a view to possible legal action.
She said: "The issue is how much checking the agencies ought to be doing before giving the information.
"We would expect the onus to be on them to do everything they can to make sure that they only give information to the person or persons entitled to have it," she said.