New measures to clear up confusion

Measures to prevent organisations using the Data Protection Act
1998 as “an excuse for their own shortcomings” were announced by
the government last week.

The information commissioner, Richard Thomas, said it was
“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 having problems
interpreting the act, developing more practical and user-friendly
guidance and a commitment to plain English in all communications on
data protection.

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 do’s and don’ts”.

The move follows claims by Humberside police following the
conviction of Ian Huntley for the Soham murders that it had deleted
details of allegations about him to comply with the act. And
British Gas said the act had prevented the company informing social
services when it disconnected the gas supply of an older couple who
were later found dead (news, page 9, 8 January).

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