The transcripts of the official inquiry into the culture, practices and ethics of the press. More…

All of what I'm saying is essentially by way much reminder. Ms Sarma also explained why the unidentified journalists may well have not have been aware of any illegality and what I did want to remind you of was that the vast majority of the Operation Motorman data in relation to my clients consisted simply of ex-directory telephone numbers and our evidence was that those were obtainable through legitimate sources. Indeed, we exhibited some websites providing exactly that service which continue to operate, and one of them claims with the approval of the ICO.

So that's one point about whether there was any actual wrongdoing disclosed even against the unidentified journalists but Ms Sarma went further and explained that without knowing the particular transaction, it is was impossible to see whether there was a public interest defence -- an apparent offence or prima facie offence -- under section 55. She did so not in the abstract but by exhibiting at PS6 certain stories which we linked to particular lines in the data, where we said there was a public interest. It's a confidential exhibit but it's in evidence. We didn't do the exercise for every line but doing it for some was an indication of how difficult it is to oversimplify the problem and suggest that any journalist using the services should have been disciplined.

Then one asks: should we have done something at a later date? I suppose the first question is when, but let us take the example of you when all the participants obtained, through the Inquiry, the relevant data. The position at that stage, sir, is the transactions were by then at least nine years old and since some of them were probably much older, it would have been difficult at that stage to look into them. More difficult.

More importantly, I think we had only one or perhaps two journalists named in the data still in employment at any of our titles. But we also took the view that to take disciplinary action against employees for transactions more than nine years old would have been completely indefensible in employment law terms and they were far too stale to start disciplining people.

There's a further point that we wanted to emphasise which is that both the former Information Commissioner, Mr Thomas, and the present one, Mr Graham, confirmed at your seminar on 12 October last year, and again in their evidence, that they didn't perceive any problem of the press purchasing illegally obtained information had persisted after 2006. So the problem those gentlemen both identified and the earlier one brought out in the report they saw as historical.

In those circumstances, we suggest that disciplinary action, either in 2006 or in 2011, wasn't actually realistic against individual journalists and exploring the issue of why it did or didn't happen won't assist your Inquiry at all.

As far as the second question is concerned -- namely, the retention and possible current processing of the data -- the first point is similar to the one I have been putting forward, namely that in 2006 we couldn't do anything because we didn't know what the data was. By 2011, the data is very old. It's got to be at least nine years old. It would be a huge effort, a disproportionate effort, to try and identify what in most cases is this low grade personal information, ex-directory numbers, see if they're on the systems separately from their presence on the systems through other avenues, and again, we question how much you'll be assisted by exploring that issue, certainly now that we're well downstream from Module 1.

There's a final point I wanted to make, which is a harder edged point. You have a lot on your plate in this Inquiry, as you say from time to time, and I certainly recognise it myself. There are other officials under the Data Protection Act who have the duty of seeing whether our current processing is lawful, fair, appropriate. Any individual who is concerned can make a complaint under the Data Processing Act. The High Court as jurisdiction to rule. The ICO has jurisdiction to rule. Fortunately, you may think, you don't.

If our current processing, such as it is, is lawful under the Data Processing Act, the press can't be criticised for any retention and continuing processing and I'd respectfully invite you to put aside this invitation to add yet more to your workload, largely because it won't take you anywhere but also for the reasons I've given.

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