ICO seeking greater investigative and punitive powers

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) is seeking to earn greater powers to help curtail the actions of those individuals and businesses which breach the terms of the Data Protection Act (DPA), through inadequate security, data loss or theft.

The latest news from within the organisation is that it will be requesting the ability to impose custodial sentences on offenders, rather than the current fines, which are the maximum applicable penalty for such an incident.

The ICO has been approached by the Ministry of Justice in order to provide it with details of how data protection legislation currently operates. It announced that there need to be greater deterrents in place to ensure that the private information of normal citizens is not being abused or handled irresponsibly by businesses and public sectors organisations.

In a statement, the ICO said that offences involving selling or bartering with sensitive personal data should be punishable by a prison sentence in the most extreme examples.

It explained that the circumvention of data protection policy within organisations was most regularly carried out by lone agents, but complained that the threat of fines was insufficient to prevent future loss or theft under the current DPA rulings.

As well as highlighting the inadequacy of fines in combating DPA breaches, the ICO said that its current investigative abilities are underwhelming and inappropriate for the task in hand, when it is asked to examine a particular organisation.

The ICO said that at the moment it is only able to investigate those directly involved in handling data if they allow it. As such, the Information Commissioner is said to be in the process of collecting evidence which indicates the frequency with which those responsible for data refuse to co-operate with an ICO investigation.

The ICO said that it is the private sector in which this refusal of involvement is most regularly found and, ideally, the Ministry of Justice will be convinced of this when it has been given the opportunity to look over the evidence provided in the coming weeks.

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