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Government hands ICO data spot check powers

LONDON - The government has made a concession to the Information Commissioner's Office's request for stronger powers to combat breaches of data protection laws by the public and private sectors.

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The government rejected the ICO's request last month, but following the crisis over its loss of unencrypted records on 25m Britons, the Government has been forced into giving the ICO the authority to carry out spot checks on government departments.

The information commissioner, Richard Thomas, wants wider powers, including the ability to carry out audits and inspections not just in government departments but in local government and private companies.

He also wants to have the power to bring criminal prosecutions for data protection breaches; currently he can only issue an enforcement notice, and if the organisation fails to comply, can prosecute it for a typical maximum fine of £5,000.

The admission on Tuesday, that the Revenue & Customs department had mislaid two discs full of 25m people's data, prompted a surge in calls to credit reference agencies Callcredit, Equifax and Experian.

It has also led to renewed questions about the Government's plans for a national identity card scheme.

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