Police in Liverpool, in an early morning raid on a house in Cheshire, seized a memory stick from a retired former police officer who used to work for the Information Commissioner’s Office. Whilst at the ICO he was responsible for working on Operation Motorman, an investigation into the intrusive information gathering that was being performed by the media using Private Investigators, and was part of the team that pounced on Private Investigator, Steven Whittamore, back in 2003. In a statement Cheshire Police said: “Following information received, a warrant was executed at an address inWidnes. The warrant relates to an investigation into allegations concerning breaches of the Data Protection Act 1998.”
When Mr Owens and the team investigated Mr Whittamore, he had a list of transactional services he had performed for various newspaper reporters and these amounted to around 17,000 entries! Mr Owens quit his job in 2006 claiming the Information Commissioner failed to investigate these transactions resulting in Mr Whittamore only getting his knuckles rapped and a two year conditional discharge. This was for a deliberate breach and flouting of The Data Protection Act 1998 where he illegally obtaining personal information and sold it on for personal gain. It also let the hundreds of reporters and newspaper editors off the hook.
Following a request from the current Information Commissioner, the police are looking to question Mr Owens with regards to possible breaches of the Act in that he leaked information to the Independent newspaper. The memory stick the police took relates to the work Mr Owens was doing when employed by the Information Commissioner, he did however, refuse to hand over a copy of the statement prepared for the Leveson Inquiry. Mr Owens has allegedly described the police as being on a ‘fishing expedition’ and that there was no doubt as the result of an ICO complaint.
Mr Owens is meant to be giving evidence to the Leveson Inquiry later this month into the media’s use of private investigators to illegally obtain personal information. He has notified them of the police raid but it is understood he has already supplied Strathclyde Police with a statement and a copy of the Motorman disk to aid their investigations into the media’s illegal practices inScotland.
So, who is investigating whom? The current Information Commissioner seems hell bent on investigating something his predecessor did and using the police to do so. Is this right or is there something more sinister happening here? Why would this suddenly come up just days before a former employee was to give evidence? Is the Commissioner’s Office trying to hide something? On speaking to someone at the ICO it was carefully explained that they would not comment about that and also that they would not respond to a Freedom of Information request I tried to file.
I will watch this one carefully as I am sure something else is going to come out about it……