Data Protection Watchdog - to get tough on businesses

Article

02 May, 2006

There has been a recent surge in the number of businesses that collect, keep and hold personal data, with a corresponding increase in the potential for the data to be misused.

Deputy Information Commissioner, David Smith, has announced that the data protection watchdog is to get tough on those businesses which fail to comply with the Data Protection Act 1998.

This follows the establishment last year of a new 'Regulatory Action Division' devoted to protecting personal information held by businesses.

The organisation intends to focus first on the worst offenders which knowingly flout the data protection laws and it anticipates that its enforcement efforts will lead to more prosecutions. This will apply to all kinds of businesses that collect, keep and hold personal data not only direct marketing organisations.

The Information Commissioner's Office also plans to make it easier for businesses to comply with regulation by issuing simplified guidelines. Mr Smith plans to work more closely with businesses and industry bodies in order to ensure the watchdog can address their concerns. In his view, guidance is more effective if it is produced by industry bodies rather than the regulator.

There is existing guidance on the Data Protection Act which has been produced by the Information Commissioner. For example, guidance notes to assist professionals in recording their professional opinions and to assist employers in providing references.

The Data Protection Act gives everyone a right to see information that is held about them including any opinions. Professionals including teachers, social workers, doctors, and nurses need to be aware of this and understand what action is required when an individual challenges one of their opinions.

The Information Commissioner has produced another good practice note which is a user friendly guide for employers. This helps employers understand how the Data Protection Act applies to employee references. The guide also helps employers decide when employment references should and should not be released.

Pauline Rigby, Business Law Department

Please contact Pauline Rigby at Forbes Solicitors should you require any advice or assistance in relation to the Data Protection Act and its enforcement 01254 222399 or email Pauline Rigby

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