Commissioner's Office condemns disclosure of alleged requests by NI journalists to private investigator
Operation Motorman: Paul Staines, AKA Guido Fawkes, was criticised by the ICO for publishing files.
The Information Commissioner's Office has said it "strongly condemns" the partial publication by the Guido Fawkes blog of its Operation Motorman files on alleged breaches of the Data Protection Act by journalists.
The blogger Paul Staines, who runs the Guido Fawkes website, on Monday night published details of more than 1,000 alleged requests by News International journalists to the private investigator Steve Whittamore for information including ex-directory telephone numbers, criminal record checks and vehicle registration details.
Guido Fawkes published details from the so-called "blue book" of News International information requests to Whittamore, including a number that appear to be prima facie breaches of the Data Protection Act, along with many more that appear lawful. Journalists have legal protection from the act if the story published is in the public interest.
The ICO said the disclosure was a "serious violation of many people's privacy" which may itself be a breach of data protection laws.
The ICO has resisted pressure to publish the detail behind the 2003 Operation Motorman investigation in a bid to protect the identity of the thousands of people allegedly targeted by journalists from national newspapers and magazines. Some of those targeted were named in the files uploaded on Monday.
"We strongly condemn the irresponsible publication of material from the Motorman files. Putting these into the public domain in this way is a serious violation of many people's privacy and raises more questions than it answers," the ICO said in a statement.
"People who are concerned that their personal data may have been included in the Motorman files are able to contact the ICO via our website to make a 'fast-tracked' Subject Access Request (SAR) under the Data Protection Act (DPA).
"The issue of publication is being considered by the Leveson inquiry and it's most unfortunate that Guido Fawkes has chosen to jump the gun. The ICO will now consider what further steps it should take in the face of this apparent breach of the DPA."
The information commissioner, Christopher Graham, told BBC Radio 4's World at One programme on Tuesday that he was "really very angry" about the disclosure.
"It's deeply iresponsible and its deeply unfair," Graham said. "This is absolutely what we were trying to avoid."
The Hacked Off campaign said that Lord Justice Leveson should publish "promptly" the full evidence gathered during the Operation Motorman investigation.
In a blogpost, Staines described the files as "Britain's biggest establishment cover-up". He wrote: "This isn't a crime thriller storyline. Operation Motorman uncovered industrial scale criminality and hundreds of suspects' names. Currently in Britain the newspapers are neither naming nor shaming because the criminal enterprises are the newspapers themselves, who understandably do not wish to report their own crimes. Their silence is a matter of self-preservation."
Staines could be summoned back to explain to the Leveson inquiry why he published the material, in defiance of the courts and the ICO. Leveson could refer the matter to the high court under section 36 of the Inquiries Act if it is thought to be in breach of a court order. A spokesman for the Leveson inquiry declined to comment.
It is the second time Staines has published sensitive material online without authorisation from the inquiry. The blogger was summoned in November after he published a version of evidence by Alastair Campbell, the former No 10 communications director, days before it was due to be heard in public.
A summary of requests by national newspapers, magazines and broadcasters to Whittamore was published by the ICO in 2006 in two reports,What Price Privacy? and What Price Privacy Now?. The latter detailed how the Daily Mail, the People, the Daily Mirror and the Mail on Sunday had the greatest number of transactions with the private investigator, in a list that featured most national newspapers, including the Observer, Daily Express, Times and Sunday Times, and magazines such as Best and Closer.
The Leveson inquiry has heard detailed evidence from a number of officials involved in the reports, including Alec Owens, the former lead investigator on Operation Motorman, and Richard Thomas, the information commissioner at the time.
The Guardian published details of News International journalists' alleged use of Whittamore based on information from the Motorman investigation in a story by Nick Davies in July 2009. Davies wrote about the contents of the Motorman files in greater detail, including requests to Whittamore made by other newspaper groups, in August 2009.
ITV News has also obtained the ICO Motorman files. In a special report last month, the broadcaster alleged that the Daily Mail spent £143,150 on 1,728 requests for information from Whittamore, more than any other title. Associated Newspapers, publisher of the Daily Mail, said it banned the use of "inquiry agents" in 2007 and that any breach of the Data Protection Act was a sackable offence.
The Independent on Sunday published a story based on the contents of the "blue book" in September 2010, and its daily sister title the Independent was apparently shown the Operation Motorman files in September 2011.
Each of the core participants to the Leveson inquiry, including the Guardian and other national newspapers, has confidential access to the Operation Motorman files.
The information commissioner, Christopher Graham, told the inquiry he invited the publishers of all national newspapers to view the Operation Motorman material in 2009. The Leveson inquiry heard earlier this year that Guardian News & Media, publisher of the Guardian, Observer and guardian.co.uk website network, including MediaGuardian, took up the ICO invitation and viewed the Motorman files in February 2011.
Graham also told the inquiry in January that Associated Newspapers, Express Newspapers and News International made approaches to view the files in summer 2011, after the prime minister announced the Leveson inquiry.
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