Ministry of Justice considers custodial sentences for data loss

Recent high profile cases of data loss have prompted a potential change in legislation that could see the parties responsible facing prison sentences. The Ministry of Justice is currently taking advice on a new set of laws that would allow custodial sentences to be handed out to those found to have caused data loss through negligence or the reckless misuse of private data.

Sources at the British Computer Society (BCS), were quick to formulate potential scenarios which could become reality should the legislation come into force. They also saw the developments as part of a longer term process within the industry, with growing recognition for the need for stringent regulations and a greater appreciation of the dangers of data loss.

At this early stage, the BCS is emphasising the importance of the definitions of “reckless” and “negligent” for IT professionals in the context of data protection. The proposed legislation would require the development of a universally accepted minimum standard of practice. Public pressure is believed to favour such standards and punishment for non-compliance under the new legislation could be severe.

The BCS appears to be uncertain at this time as to the impact the legislation and the threat of custodial sentences could have. In an ideal world it would result in the creation of internal regulation within the industry with significant improvements in areas of primary public concern. The legislation could be used as a catalyst in this process, resulting in more firms striving to meet minimum industry standards for accreditation by the BCS.

The BCS has also considered the inverse scenario wherein the legislation could make little or no difference to data loss issues. In the worst case, the legislation could potentially prove to be detrimental to the industry as a whole: if IT professionals were regularly and visibly proven to be reckless under the new set of standards, public confidence in the industry could fade.

Whatever the outcome of the Ministry of Justice’s consultation on the matter, it is likely that the opinions of BCS members will hold significant weight in the matter.

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