Companies using 'blaggers' to illegally access personal data to be investigated


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The Independent Online

Law firms and insurance companies which employed private detectives who used a "blagger" to illegally access personal data are to be investigated for possible criminal offences.

The Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) announced it would be investigating the clients of former Army intelligence officer Philip Campbell Smith to see whether they commissioned him to unlawfully obtain private details, including bank statements, phone records, medical documents and Interpol files.

Campbell Smith, 53, who is at the centre of allegations of computer hacking carried out on behalf of the News of the World, was yesterday jailed for eight months after admitting using the services of Daniel Summers, 32, a specialist blagger, to trick banks, phone companies and other bodies including HM Revenue and Customs into revealing confidential data.

The Serious and Organised Crime Agency (Soca) said yesterday it would hand over evidence from its investigation into Campbell Smith, Summers and two other private detectives to the ICO to see if the men's clients, who also included foreign exchange brokers, breached data protection laws by seeking information which could only be obtained illegally.

Prosecutors told a judge at Kingston Crown Court in west London last week that Campbell Smith's business partner, Graham Freeman, had boasted to one potential client that he could access information which would result in a jail sentence if made public.

Christopher Graham, the Information Commissioner, said: "The scourge of data theft continues to threaten the privacy rights of UK citizens. [We] would not rule out taking further against the organisations that received information from these individuals."

Alongside Campbell Smith, from Northampton, Summers, from Kingston on Thames, was sentenced to 12 months imprisonment and Freeman, 51, who lives in Spain, to six months. Retired police officer Adam Spears, 72, from Biggin Hill,  Kent, who ran a private detective agency which also used Summers, was jailed for eight months. All four men had pleaded guilty to fraud.