Hacked Off yesterday wrote to the Information Commissioner, Christopher Graham, asking him to take steps to notify those who were subjects of data-mining by national newspapers, as revealed by evidence discovered through Operation Motorman. This is the text of the letter, as sent on 25th January 2012:
Dear Mr Graham,
We are writing to ask you to take steps to notify those who were subjects of data-mining by the national press where you are in possession of such knowledge by virtue of the information that you obtained in Operation Motorman. Such individuals should be told that information had been sought on them, possibly illegally; what information that was; and who (newspaper and journalist) procured it.
We believe that this is justified morally and legally for the following reasons:
1. As a public authority you have a positive obligation to assist people in protecting their Article 8 rights.
2. It is the assertion of the ICO that hundreds of journalists procured personal information unlawfully (in breach of section 55 of the Data Protection Act) thousands of times in respect of hundreds of individuals.
3. Various press organisations, for example Trinity Mirror Group, have accepted the ICO’s view that many, if not most, of these transactions were illegal in that there was no public interest defence and that the data sought was of a nature that could only be obtained unlawfully.
4. Some press organisations have however denied that any of their journalists involved in the Motorman transactions did anything wrong.
5. Some press organisations have now admitted continuing to use Steve Whittamore many years after his conviction and many years after the press were told by the ICO in 2006 that the bulk of his work was illegal.
6. It is likely, if not inevitable, that media organisations have illegally retained and processed data which the ICO has judged to have been illegally obtained.
7. Some individuals are now hearing from the media that they were victims of this operation as information leaks out that they were targeted (we refer to articles in the Independent and the Guardian). It is entirely wrong that they should read about this in the national press and not hear from the ICO.
8. Other individuals in the public eye or otherwise of interest to the media, some of whom have been shown to be victims of other press misconduct, do not know whether they have been victims of data-mining. They therefore do not know whether their phone lines, ex-directory phone numbers, mobile phone numbers, home addresses (where confidential), pin numbers, car registration numbers (where confidential) are secure anymore. Nor do they know who might have had access to confidential material such as their medical or bank or police records.
9. We understand that the newspapers who perpetrated thisunlawful data-mining are being allowed to see a list of their journalists who procured information and a list of the victims of this data-mining. While we do not object to newspapers being told who these journalists were, we believe it is wrong that the newspaper groups – some of whom have not accepted the illegality of this activity – should be shown the names of those that their newspaper have data-mined in the past, without the permission of these individuals.
10. If the newspapers, armed with the knowledge of who the victims were, were to claim that there is a public interest defence then the victims should be notified so that they have an opportunity to contest these claims.
11. We understand that the lawyers for the newspapers have now been shown all the confidential data that all the newspapers obtained, presumably in order to make their best case in the Leveson Inquiry, while the victims remain ignorant of the fact that they were data-mining targets and are therefore unable to provide counter-evidence.
By virtue of points 3, 4, 5, 7, 9, 10 and 11 there are material changes in the circumstances in favour of notification since the ICO last decided that it would not be lawful, under section 59, to notify the data subjects that they were victims in this criminal enterprise. We believe that this earlier decision was wrong but that these material changes make an even more compelling case for making this information available to victims.
We believe the people we are in touch with have a right to know that – to the best of the knowledge of the ICO – they were victims of data-mining so that they can steps to protect their privacy.
We look forward to hearing from you.
Dr Evan Harris
Hacked Off Campaign