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Staff at mobile phone company T-Mobile passed on millions of records from thousands of customers, a spokesman for the firm has confirmed.
The suspected illegal trade emerged after the firm alerted Christopher Graham, of the information watchdog.
Information Commissioner Mr Graham, appointed earlier this year, said the case he was now preparing illustrated why there needed to be a prison sentence to prevent people from selling private data to third parties.
"We are considering the evidence with a view to prosecuting those responsible and I am keen to go much further and close down the entire unlawful industry in personal data.
"But, we will only be able to do this if blaggers and others who trade in personal data face the threat of a prison sentence.
"The existing paltry fines… are simply not enough to deter people from engaging in this lucrative criminal activity. The threat of jail, not fines, will prove a stronger deterrent."
"More and more personal information is being collected and held by government, public authorities and businesses," said Mr Graham.
"In the future, as new systems are developed and there is more and more interconnection of these systems, the risks of unlawful obtaining and disclosure become even greater.
"If public trust and confidence in the proper handling of personal information, whether by government or by others, is to be maintained effective sanctions are essential."
Lib Dem Home Affairs spokesman Chris Huhne said the "shameful incident" proved that stiffer penalties "cannot be introduced soon enough".
He added: "This sorry episode questions the government's wisdom in getting communications providers to hoard increasing amounts of information about us."