How Journalists steal confidential information
In these days of over-mighty government, we need a strong free press which can hold parliament, whitehall, big companies, and councils to account.
What we do not need is to add intrusive snooping into people's private lives by journalists to what we already have from the state.
If an MP or government minister is shutting my local hospital, wasting money which comes from my taxes, giving contracts preferentially to companies which give money to Labour party funds, or otherwise misusing his position, I want to know about it. But his private life is another matter entirely - if he's cheating on his wife that is her business, but not mine.
I'm most grateful to Iain Dale's diary for drawing my attention to a story which should have been in the national newspapers but has not. With the honorable exception of the Daily Telegraph website they appear to have ignored it. Perhaps, since one or two national papers come very badly out of the report, this was too close to home.
Earlier this year the Freedom of Information commissioner published a report, "What Price Privacy" about the trade in stolen private information. When a private detective was arrested this year it was found that he had been involved in selling confidential information including Telephone records, DVLA records, and National Police Computer information to hundreds of journalists, most of them working for supposedly reputable organisations. He was part of an agency which was stealing and supplying such information on an industrial scale.
Following a Freedom of Information request by Lord Ashcroft, details of some of the supposedly respectable companies which are buying this stolen information have now come out.
A report published by Lord Ashcroft based on his freedom of information request shows that more than 300 journalists had commissioned more than 13,000 lines of inquiry from the agency which the man arrested worked for. More than 5,000 of these lines of inquiry were stated by the information commissioner as being definitely known to have broken the Data Protection Act, and another 6,000 were probably such a breach.
You can read the full report by Lord Ashcroft here
The URL is http://www.lordashcroft.com/pdf/WhatPricePrivacyFoIAreply.pdf
His report gives the numbers but does not name names. However, Iain Dale reported on Wednesday that a report to be presented to Parliament this week would name the newpapers and magazines which are the main offenders. You can read his article
EXCLUSIVE: Press Stand Accused of Illegal Activity
I would hate to see action taken against the press which prevents them from doing their legitimate job of holding the government to account, especially as Britain really needs to have our present government held to account.
But this sort of massive illegal snooping into people's private lives is not just intolerable in itself. It is also dangerous both for the press themselves and for a free society, because it is very likely to provoke a backlash against the media, including legislation and court action which may interfere with their ability to carry out the duties which we desperately need them to do.