The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has claimed that new powers mean it is no longer a “toothless tiger”, and is pushing for prison sentences to be introduced for professional data thieves.
Speaking on the first day of the Infosecurity Europe conference in London on Tuesday, David Smith, ICO deputy commissioner, said that although the organisation had been granted new powers recently, it was keen for persistent and professional data thieves to be punished with jail sentences.
Smith identified groups including private investigators and internal employees who sell company data as targets for prison time. “Those who con information out of you, who work for you and/or sell information on the black market … all these are are criminal offences already but we argue they should be prison offences,” said Smith.
The ICO recently took part in a government consultation on the issue of prison sentences but said that the issue would have to be resolved by the new government.
“The government consulted us on this. That consultation finished in January and the government is still analysing the response to that consultation. Nothing will happen before the election and we will wait and see what happens,” he said.
No New Prisons
However, the ICO’s plans to impose jail time on data thieves could face problems from potential cuts to public sector spending, with some of the parties hoping to scale back prison time for so-called minor crimes. The Liberal Democrats in particular oppose the building of new prisons. Writing in the Guardian last month, Liberal  Democrat Shadow Home Secretary Chris Huhne said that prison was not the answer to curbing crime.
“Tories and Labour are pledging to send more people to prison for longer just because it sounds tough. Liberal Democrats would not build more prisons,” he wrote. “We are the only party brave enough to suggest that rigorous community sentences are more effective than short prison sentences.”
On the issue of the election and working with the future government, Smith said  that data protection would continue to be a major issue for whichever party or parties got into power.
“We have a new government and I am a public servant so am not going to make any comment on that, “ he said. “All the parties mention things on information rights within their proposals and this will be an issue and is relevant to all parties whatever colour the government is – or if we have a multi-coloured government.”
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