Senior executives in the West Midlands could soon be facing prison sentences if they misuse personal data, data protection experts in Birmingham warned yesterday.
This week the Government announced proposals for a crack-down on people selling or obtaining personal information illegally with proposed penalties of up to a two year prison sentence.
Earlier this week the Department for Constitutional Affairs announced its intention, endorsing the Information Commissioner's recommendations, to add jail terms to the sentencing regime under the 1998 Data Protection Act, together with unlimited fines.
The aim is to clean up the illegal trade in people's personal information such as addresses, bank details, health records, criminal records and details of car ownership.
Caroline Egan, an expert in data protection and a consultant in the commercial services practice at Hammonds in Birmingham, said: "Data-sharing, particularly in the public sector, is increasing all the time. To retain public confidence, penalties for deliberate misuse need to be increased."
Businesses thought to be most at risk of falling foul of the higher penalties include insurance companies, lenders and creditors, and local authorities who use enquiry agents to obtain this sort of information, as well as the agents themselves and journalists.
Caroline added: "This proposal is just one part of the Commissioner's intention of coming down heavily on those businesses that have made no real effort to comply with the Act."
"Plcs could be hit by a double-whammy. They must be vigilant with how they process personal data as a failure to comply with the Act could also be flagged up as a failure to fully adhere to corporate governance requirements."