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Dispatches: Watching The Detectives, tonight, 8pm, Channel 4. @C4Dispatches #Detectives
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Nearly five staff a day are disciplined for data offence at the Department of Work and Pensions, a Channel 4 Dispatches reveals.
The investigation also found that in 2011 there were at least 13 cases per month of unlawful access to medical records reported to the Department of Health.
Watching the Detectives: Channel 4 Dispatches, which airs tonight, explores just how easy it is to buy our most personal and confidential information on the black market.
The year-long investigation exposes the private detectives selling access to health, state benefit and criminal records, mobile phone bills and bank accounts details for as little as a few hundred pounds.
Department of Work and Pensions
The Data Protection Act is supposed to safeguard our confidential information. According to Section 55 it's a criminal offence to: "obtain or disclose personal data" without permission or "procure the disclosure to another person".
So how secure is our most personal and confidential information?
As part of a wider investigation, Channel 4 Dispatches put in a Freedom of Information request to the Department of Work and Pensions asking how many times their staff had been disciplined for data offences over the past year.
Their response: 992 in just ten months. That's nearly five a day - and that's just the ones they know about.
The database holds the records of some 96 million people including records of those that have died.
"It's thought to be the largest government database of personal information in Europe," says Mark Ballard of Computer Weekly. "There are known to be at least 200,000 people with access to the database.... amongst 480 local authorities, other government departments including HMRC and the courts and service staff across the whole country."
Department of Health
Up to 700,000 people have access to parts of the various databases that hold our medical records.
Channel 4 Dispatches asked the Department of Health for the number of unlawful access to medical reports reported to the Department over the last five years.
In response they say: "The Department of Health does not collect details of all incidents where records have been accessed unlawfully, as in many cases such access will relate to only a small number of records, or the incident will occur in an authority that is not required to report to the Department."
However, the did provide the number of incidents that had been reported to them including 158 incidents in 2011, averaging at just over 13 cases a month.
Private Investigators in breach of the Data Protection Act
The past year has been filled with revelations about private detectives and journalists illegally accessing personal information on celebrities, Channel 4 Dispatches lifts the lid on the lucrative black market in the most personal and confidential information about you and me.
Channel 4 Dispatches invented a company and recruited three willing volunteers - one businessman and two activists - who agreed to allow our undercover reporter, posing as a businessman, to request private investigators carry out full background checks on each of them.
Most private investigators offer background checks comprising legally-obtained information. However, for a few hundred pounds some private investigators approached by our undercover reporter provided information about our volunteers that cannot be found in the public domain - such banking, phone, medical, criminal and state benefits records - in breach of the Data Protection Act.
Watching the Detectives: Channel 4 Dispatches, Monday 14th May 2012 at 8pm
Department of Work and Pensions FOI Findings:
April 2007 - March 2008 = 239
April 2006 - March 2009 = 299
April 2009 - March 2010 = 462
April 2010 - March 2011 = 1172
April 2011 - January 2012 = 992 (10 months)
Total - 3,164 Disciplined
Taking the latest records - the 10 months April 2011 - January 2012 - that's 3 217 working days (assuming a five day week). 992 people disciplined for data offences in 217 days is an average of nearly 5 a working day (4.57) - and that is just the ones they know about.
Department of Health Findings:
The number of unlawful access to medical reports reported to the Department over the last five years broken down by years. While the Department of Health does not collect details of all incidents it provided the following figures.
2007 - 28
2008 - 162
2009 - 137
2010 - 82
2011 - 158 (that averages out at just over 13 cases a month)
Total - 567