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Last Updated: Thursday, 14 December 2006, 10:55 GMT
'Illegal snooping' papers named
Clive Goodman
The News of the World's Royal editor was taken to court
A government watchdog has named the 31 publications which dealt with a firm of private investigators involved in the illegal trade of personal information.

Invoices to newspapers including the Daily Mail, Sunday People, Daily Mirror and Mail on Sunday were uncovered in a 2002 raid on the company.

Accessing such information can be legal if used in the public interest.

But Information Commissioner Richard Thomas wants jail terms introduced for breaches of the Data Protection Act.

Media organisations, including the BBC, have said they would fight such a move.

Other publications named by the Information Commissioner include the Sunday Times, the Observer, the Evening Standard and magazines Best and Woman's Own.

Bank records

The report - What Price Privacy Now? - comes after the findings of a probe into the black market trade in information was published in May.

Altogether, some 305 unnamed journalists were identified as recipients of a range of data supplied by the Hampshire-based private investigators. Four people linked to the firm were convicted of offences, but no journalists were prosecuted.

The naming of the publications comes after a Freedom of Information Act request.

Daily Mail: 952
Sunday People: 802
Daily Mirror 681
Mail on Sunday: 266
News of the World: 182
Sunday Mirror: 149
Best magazine: 134
Evening Standard: 130
Observer: 103
Daily Sport: 62
Sunday Times: 52
Daily Express: 43
Sunday Express: 29
The Sun: 24
Closer magazine: 22
Sunday Sport: 15
Source: Information commissioner

"People care about their personal privacy and have a right to expect that their personal details remain confidential," said Mr Thomas.

"Who they are, where they live, who their friends and family are, how they run their lives: these are all private matters.

"Individuals may choose to divulge such information to others, but information about them held confidentially should not be available to anyone prepared to pay the right price."

Other incidents have involved finance companies and local authorities, as well as criminals, committing fraud or witness intimidation.

Mr Thomas said responses to his initial report indicate there is support for the proposals to stamp out the supply of information taken from sources such as driving licence, telephone, bank and health records.

He said many organisations have taken steps of their own to raise awareness and tighten security and the government is consulting on increased sentences.

But he also revealed the amount paid by journalists to the private detective for specific pieces of information.

This included:

  • Obtaining a criminal record: 500

  • Obtaining a list of family and friends numbers from BT: 350-500
  • Identifying a name and address and a number plate: 150
  • Obtaining an ex-directory telephone number: 75

The current penalty for illegally buying or selling personal information is a fine of up to 5,000 in magistrates' courts or unlimited in crown courts.

There is also a precedent in recently-passed laws for introducing identity cards, which include a two-year prison term for people accessing information without permission.

The information commissioner wants the government to replicate those penalties for people trading information from other sources.

Associated Newspapers use search agencies to obtain information entirely legitimately from a range of public sources
Associated Newspapers

The other publications named in the report are: the Sunday Mirror, Daily Sport, The People, Daily Mail's Weekend Magazine, Sunday Express, The Sun, Closer magazine, Sunday Sport, Mail on Sunday's Night and Day, News of the World, Daily Express, Sunday Business News, Daily Record, the Express' Saturday, Sunday Mirror Magazine, Real Magazine, Daily Mirror Magazine, Mail in Ireland, Daily Star, Marie Claire, Personal Magazine and Sunday World.

The latest report comes as the former royal editor of the News of the World, Clive Goodman, and a private investigator, Glenn Mulcaire, await sentence for plotting to intercept voicemail messages of the Prince of Wales's household.

While acknowledging that the case was not brought under the Data Protection Act - the pair could face possible jail terms - the information commissioner said it does have "parallels" with his own findings.

The Daily Mail was said by the information commissioner to have made 952 requests for information to the Hampshire firm - more than any other publication.

But Associated Newspapers, which also publishes the Mail on Sunday and Evening Standard, said the report's ranking was "utterly meaningless" as it was based on the activities of just one supplier.

"Associated Newspapers, in common with all newspapers and broadcasters - and many other organisations, including lawyers - use search agencies to obtain information entirely legitimately from a range of public sources," it said.

"In addition, the law specifically makes provision for journalists making enquiries in the public interest.

"Since the information commissioner first raised his concerns Associated Newspapers has repeatedly stressed to all its journalists that they must observe the law when seeking information."

Information commissioner speaks to Today programme

Trust warning over personal data
13 Jul 06 |  UK Politics
Privacy traders 'must be jailed'
12 May 06 |  UK Politics

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