The UK's Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) is calling for tougher prison sentences and heavier fines for people who illegally buy and sell personal data such as addresses and bank account details on the black market.
Information Commissioner Richard Thomas is using special powers under the Data Protection Act to present a report to parliament that highlights the "existence of a pervasive and widespread industry devoted to illegally buying and selling people's personal information".
Thomas has called for prison sentences of two years and heavier fines for the illegal trading of confidential personal records.
Says Thomas: "Low penalties devalue this serious data protection offence in the public mind and mask the seriousness of the crime, even within the judicial system. They do little to deter those who seek to buy or supply private information that should remain private."
Credit referencing agency Equifax has welcomed the call. Neil Munroe, external affairs director, Equifax, says: "It has been a concern of ours, for some time now, that the controls and restrictions on unauthorised buying and selling of personal data were not stringent enough.
"In particular, we have been concerned that the UK public could lose confidence in those channels that have been approved by the Information Commissioner and adhere to the Data Protection Act 1998."