Plans to give courts the power to dish out jail terms for data thieves have been dealt a fresh blow after being stalled once again in Parliament, despite support from MPs.
Bizarrely, legislation which allows new regulations to make imprisonment a possible penalty has already been passed. But the power to introduce the laws has never been acted on, much to the annoyance of the Information Commissioner Christopher Graham.
In an effort to get the go-ahead, Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames had tabled an amendment to the draft Criminal Justice & Courts Bill which is currently going through Parliament.
However, he failed to move the amendment to a vote during a House of Lords debate on the Bill earlier this week after other peers slammed the timing of the proposals.
Lord Marks said: “I entirely accept that the complexity of these amendments, and the fact that the Government and the opposition have had so little time to consider them, means that it would be wrong of me to press them to the vote today.”
The penalty for committing a so-called Section 55 offence is a maximum £5,000 fine if the case is heard in a Magistrates Court and an unlimited fine for cases which go to a Crown Court. Under his amendment, anyone found guilty of that offence could be jailed for up to two years, as well as receive a fine.
“To put it bluntly, the threat of fines is frequently insufficient as a punishment,” Lord Marks said during the Lords debate. “There is a risk that payment of fines may be regarded and treated as no more than a necessary expense by [the] unscrupulous who act with intent to circumvent the Data Protection Act.”
All is not lost, however; Lord Marks suggested he may re-table the amendment again, alongside other proposals he has drafted, at a later stage of the Bill’s progress through the Lords.
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