Data Theft and the Legal System

Recently more news has come to light about data theft: More people are implicated, more data has been misused, and the fines seem to be poor. This all raises more questions than it answers.

A few days ago Mathew Single was sentenced for publishing the BNP membership details, which he took from the BNP. i.e. data theft. The ramifications of publishing the data were a series of vigilante acts against the members. Regardless of your views about the BNP they are a legal party, membership of the BNP  is legal, and they have even won an election. However, vigilante acts and data theft are not legal.

Despite this the fine for publishing the data, for breaking the law, was just £200. Even the judge complained about the level of the fine.

In addition to this more and more details of data theft  are gradually leaking out. There have been allegations of Prince William and Prince Harry’s phones being accessed. Also, the previous Head of the Professional Footballers’ Association, Gordon Taylor, had his phone hacked by the News of the World. The News of the World paid £700,000 in damages, following a court case, “but on condition that details of the case were not made public”. How can such a major media outlet go to court, lose, and still manage to keep the details of such an important case secret for so long. The key word in that sentence is probably “major”.

The ICO has recently stated that they have been let down by the press, politicians, and the court systems; in the failure to create strong enough laws, or the courts to enforce the laws they have effectively.

Recently Steve Whittamore, a former police officer, turned private detective turned crook has come back into the news. He worked for a company called JJ limited and during his time there uncovered 17,500 pieces of personal information, for over 400 journalists (from a variety of papers). The data he and his colleagues obtained varied from banking and telephone information to DVLA and PNC records.

In February 2004, Steve Whittamore, and three others were all convicted of the offences they were charged with and received …… a conditional discharge. A conditional discharge, for those not familiar with the legal system means nothing.

It means they went to court, go told they were bad people who had done a very bad thing, and then walked out, without so much as a peak at a prison. To criminals a conditional discharge is about as effective as sending a sex addict to a lap dancing bar. It just encourages them.

So, the laws are all a bit rubbish, the courts are useless, and the CPS could not organise a pissup in a brewery. But who is buying all of the this data (other than journalists).

So, Who buys Stolen Data?

[The article below has been re-published from July 2008 due to the current relevance]

A lot of the market for personal data theft is in the “gray/black” market.

Some companies specialize in the selling of personal information, anything from just the name and address (phone book/electoral role), upto bank details, phone records etc. The reported costs of this data vary from $100 to $500. These companies who sell the data to lawyers and businesses, may not “acquire” the information themselves, rather sub contract it out, keeping the “dirty end” of the business very much at arm’s length.  This means that the person who users the data, apparently legitimately, is removed by at least two steps from the actual “data theft”.

One such example involves Mischon de Reya, a famous UK law firm and Carratou an investigation agency were involved in the purchasing of stolen information.

In this case Mischon wanted find information about Mr Hughes, the former chairman of the now collapsed Allsports. Based on this Mischon instructed Carratou to track down Mr Hughes. Carratou then instructed Sharon and Stephen Anderson, who are independent contractors. Sharon and Stephen then sourced a variety of information about Mr Hughes, including details of his 11 of his bank accounts. They charged around £150 for each piece of financial data. They gained access to this information this through phone calls (impersonating Mr Hughes), false letters, etc, etc.

Once the Anderson’s had “stolen his identify” and got the relevant information, this information was then passed from the Andersons to Carratou then from Carratou to Mischon and then to Mischon’s client. The whole incident only came to light when Mr. Hughes took Carratou to court to find out how they had accessed his bank accounts.

It has since been revealed that Sharon and Stephen Anderson made around £140,000 a year doing this, which equates to nearly 4 pieces of financial information every work day. This means that they are supplying a lot of data to a lot of companies.

Articles in the Guardian and Computer Active and ICO

Other cases of people obtaining and selling data:

Man Convicted of selling personal data

ICO Publishes list of Media Buying Data

So, who buys the stolen data?

The Media (who are always reporting on the data theft), people in the investigation industy, (who are there to protect the public and businesses), and business (who are the victims of hackers and data theft)

Who suffers most? The public.

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One Response to “Data Theft and the Legal System”

  1. How to Hack an Oyster Card « Where is Your Data? Says:

    […] private investigations firms do still use illicit methods to obtain data, the recent telephone bugging scandals involving journalists, is nothing new, its that is only just […]


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