The problem of ‘blagging’ goes well beyond hackgate

An eye-opening report by the Information Commissioner today reveals the shocking scale of 'blagging' and other breaches of privacy, going well beyond hackgate.

An eye-opening report by the Information Commissioner today reveals the shocking scale of ‘blagging’ and other breaches of privacy that goes well beyond the phone hacking scandal. Writing in Prospect Magazine, Christopher Graham, tasked with enforcing the Freedom of Information Act and Data Protection Act, says tabloid journalists are “not even the biggest part” of the problem, but have been “standing in the way of a solution”.

Graham says lawyers, claims management companies, PIs – like the infamous Glen Mulcaire – and “scam merchants” are all engaged in widespread invasions of personal privacy and fraudulent accessing of data.

Writing of the locations of most of these breaches, he says:

“Every week I see details of data breaches involving local councils, doctors’ surgeries, phone companies, and so on.

“Sometimes it is carelessness – hard-pressed staff being tricked into giving out personal information to the wrong people. Other times it’s deliberate and venal: rogue employees making more than a bit on the side to supplement often low pay by selling leads and contacts to those with a need to know.”

And giving an example of how easy it is to blag someone’s data, he writes:

“It is horribly easy to blag information from a doctor’s surgery. “Hello. I’m Mr so-and-so. It’s about those tests.” Never fails. Armed with part of the story, a skilled blagger can get the rest.

“Got the address, get the phone number. Got the phone number, get the friends and family numbers. Got the friends and family, get the mobile.

“The NHS is particularly vulnerable because it is huge, dealing with highly sensitive information, overworked and under pressure.

“It is also undergoing the kind of reorganisation that leaves a disused hospital, full of cancer patients’ records, to be plundered by whoever follows the guys who break in to steal the electrics. (Belfast, since you ask).” [See UTV report here]

Graham says the problem is legislators and courts have not caught up with the reality – the DPA prescribes a maximum fine of only £5,000 in the magistrates court for a Section 55 offence of unlawful obtaining or supplying of personal information. He calls for this to be raised to two years’ jail for an indictable offence under the Act, and six months in a Magistrates.

On the media, further proof that the extent of the problem goes beyond the current furore surrounding News International is evident in the chart below, from the Information Commissioner’s office, showing the Daily Mail, Sunday People, Daily Mirror and Mail on Sunday all had more breach of privacy ‘transactions’ than the News of the World:  

It is incumbent on the police investigators, the politicians and the judicial inquiries to go after all those who have unlawfully, and flagrantly breached individual privacy for circulation gain, and ensure it’s not one rule for NI, and one rule for the others.

Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by becoming a Left Foot Forward Supporter today.