Howard acts to protect confidential information

Click to follow
The Independent Online
(First Edition)

A NEW offence of obtaining confidential information by deception is to be introduced to restrain commercial surveillance and industrial espionage, writes Donald Macintyre.

Michael Howard, the Home Secretary, has decided to amend the law in order to prevent investigation agencies posing as bona fide individuals to secure private details like personal telephone calls, credit card accounts and arrears on household and mortgage bills.

The abuse was highlighted after newspaper investigations showed the ease with which such details could be obtained after the publication of details of the credit card account of Norman Lamont, the former Chancellor. There were also complaints in the House of Lords last month that peers had been circulated by a company called ACT Investigations Group which offered to provide such details for payment.

Ministers assume that in many cases an investigator obtaining such information - which may also include commercial secrets like contract prices and other details - does so by posing as someone else. Banks, for example, may only require an account holder's address to establish that a request is authentic.

The commitment to legislate arises because ministers accept that there is a loophole under which it can be legal to obtain information by posing as someone else.

No date has been fixed for the new measure.