Organisations told to stop hiding behind data protection law

Measures designed to stop organisations using the Data
Protection Act as “a false excuse for their own
shortcomings,” were announced by the government,
writes Sally Gillen.

Information commissioner Richard Thomas said: “It is
ridiculous that organisations should hide behind data protection as
a smokescreen for practices which no reasonable person would ever
find acceptable.”

The measures include strengthening the data protection helpline
to ensure swift assistance to organisations concerned about
problems interpreting the act and a commitment to plain English in
all communications on it.

Thomas added that the data protection principles were
“largely matters of common sense and fairness, but data
protection can never be a set of detailed ‘dos’ and

The move to provide better help for organisations in
interpreting the law follows long-standing confusion within the
sector about when to apply it.

Last October, a couple in their eighties died after their gas
was cut off for non-payment of a £140 bill. British Gas had
claimed they were unable to inform social services they had
disconnected their gas because of the Data Protection Act 1998.

Humberside police also said it deleted details of allegations
against Ian Huntley to comply with the law.

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