Published in The Spectator on 02 September 2006
How odd, says Michael Ashcroft, that the press devoted so little space to a new report on those who pry unlawfully into our private lives and sell what they find.
It is curious, is it not, that even after the arrest and subsequent charging of the News of the World‘s royal editor with offences relating to phone tapping, one of the least-reported publications of recent times remains the Information commissioner’s report ‘What price privacy?’
Reading its often racy pages, I could not help thinking that it would have been better titled ‘What price information?’ Sadly few people to whom I have spoken are aware of its existence, let alone what it contains, and even the recent allegations of unlawful prying stimulated only the most cursory references to the contents of a report ow which the public should have been made fully ware.
The report reveals that the Information Commissioner’s Office, otherwise know as ICO, had long suspected the existence of an organised trade in confidential personal information. its suspicions being confirmed when the ICO attended a search under warrant in Surrey conducted by the Devon and Cornwall police.
In time this search led to a further trawl at the home of a private detective in Hampshire. This proved to be an Aladdin’s cave of information, most of it belonging to other people. The private detective, working with a number of others, offered a service to supposedly reputable organisations whereby he stole confidential information from , inter alia, telephone companies, the Driving & Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) and even the Police National Computer. Helpfully, the unnamed detective had kept detailed accounting records for his enterprise in which he named his clients, the information requested, the information provided, and the prices charged.