Regular readers of the Clu-blog will recall that in November 2008 we discussed the leaking onto the internet of a list of 12,000 names and addresses belonging to members of the British National Party (BNP).
Widespread online publication of the list caused panic amongst BNP members - as many people in the UK believe the political party's views to be racist (a claim rejected by BNP leader Nick Griffin who has claimed that racism in the United Kingdom is "overwhelmingly directed" at whites like himself).
Yesterday, in a court in Nottingham, a former senior official in the BNP pleaded guilty to leaking the sensitive information online and was fined £200 and ordered to pay £100 in costs.
37-year-old Matt Single was charged under the Data Protection Act after police found two USB drives hidden inside a cereal box in his kitchen, containing the incriminating data. Although the crime could have resulted in a maximum penalty of £5,000, Single escaped with a much smaller punishment because he is receiving state benefits.
Interestingly, the BNP itself is portraying Single's wife Sadie Graham - who was also expelled from the BNP - as the villain of the piece, as they say that she was given access to the data originally, not Single.
We shouldn't let some of the BNP's unpleasant views tar our opinion of what happened here. 160 people complained that they were threatened or had their property vandalised as a result of the leaked list. We may not all agree with their political point of view, but that doesn't make it right to leak their personal private information onto the internet.
There was a real risk of someone coming to physical harm as a result of this data leak, as members of the public took the law into their own hands and engaged in arson attacks. As such, it seems somehow wrong that the maximum penalty for this dangerous data leak would have been a £5,000 fine - let alone the punishment that was ultimately meted out.