Headlines: May 18th, 2006

As more public services join-up to provide a seamless service the risk of personal information being mis-used will grow. The result could be a loss of trust and confidence by customers, staff and citizens. This warning comes from the Information Commissioner, Richard Thomas in a report ‘What price privacy?’. The report highlights the existence of a pervasive and widespread industry devoted to illegally buying and selling people’s personal information such as current addresses, details of car ownership, ex-directory telephone numbers or records of calls made, criminal records and bank account detailsThe report arises from investigations carried out by the Information Commissioner’s Office. Documents seized revealed evidence of a large scale market in the trading of personal information. Private investigators, tracing agents and their operatives, often working loosely through several intermediaries, are the main suppliers. Information is usually obtained by making payments to staff or impersonating the target individual or another official. Some victims are in the public eye; others are entirely private citizens.

The ultimate buyers of illegally obtained personal information include journalists, financial institutions and local councils wishing to trace debtors, estranged spouses seeking details of their ex-partner’s whereabouts or finances and criminals intent on fraud or witness or juror intimidation. The report has constructed the tariff of charges with up to 750 pounds being paid for telephone account enquires and agents invoicing customers up to 120,000 pounds per month for tracing activities.