The information commissioner says the trade in personal data extends far beyond tabloid journalism. Dealers will supply anyone who paysby Christopher Graham / July 20, 2011 / Leave a comment
Published in August 2011 issue of Prospect Magazine
Journalists love talking about themselves and their trade. I know. For 25 years, I was one. But the unlawful trade in personal data by tabloid journalists is only part of a larger problem. Fleet Street is not even the biggest part of that problem—but it has been standing in the way of a solution.
Back in 2009, it was revealed that several T-Mobile employees were selling company contract data to competitor companies. At this time, I renewed the call of my predecessor Richard Thomas for a serious deterrent against such breaches of the Data Protection Act: namely, a custodial penalty. The press went into overdrive. I was accused of threatening journalists with jail and imperilling the existence of investigative journalism. (My predecessor had faced similar accusations.) At the Society of Editors conference that autumn, I told the delegates: “It’s so not about you.”
The trouble is that the most spectacular evidence we had of the unlawful trade did involve journalists: 305 of them, and 31 newspaper and magazine titles. They were the clients of Steve Whittamore, the private investigator whose customer base was exposed when the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) came to call in 2003.