THE DATA PROTECTION ACT 1998
PERSONAL DATA THAT AN EMPLOYER CAN KEEP ABOUT AN EMPLOYEE
This includes name, address, date of birth, sex, education and qualifications, work experience, National Insurance number, tax code, details of any known disability and emergency contact details.
The employer can also hold information related to an employee’s employment record. This may include their terms and conditions, any work related accidents, any training taken and any disciplinary action taken against the employee.
HOW INFORMATION MUST BE KEPT
The Act controls how personal information is used by organisations, businesses and Government. Anyone using data must ensure the information is:
• used fairly and lawfully
• used for limited, specifically stated purposes
• used in a way that is adequate, relevant and not excessive
• handled according to people’s data protection rights
• kept for no longer than is absolutely necessary
• not transferred outside the UK without adequate protection
• kept safe and secure
THE RIGHT OF DISCLOSURE
The Act gives rights to discover what information organisations including the Government, holds on individuals. An organisation is legally required to provide a copy of the information they hold about an individual if it is requested.
A small fee is often charged for the information.
INFORMATION WHICH CAN BE WITHHELD
Information can be withheld if it is about the prevention, detection or investigation of a crime, national security or the armed forces, the assessment or collection of tax or judicial or ministerial appointments.
An organisation does not have to reveal why the information is being withheld. If an individual is not satisfied they can complain to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).
REGISTER OF DATA CONTROLLERS
The Act requires every organisation that processes personal information to register with the ICO, unless they are exempt. Failure to do so is a criminal offence. There are more than 370000 registered data controllers. The ICO keeps a register of theses as well as a description of the kind of processing they do. This register is available for the public to search.
FREEDOM OF INFORMATION ACT 2000
The Act provides public access to information held by public authorities. Public authorities are obliged to publish certain information about their activities and members of the public are entitled to request information from public authorities.
The Act covers government departments, local authorities, state schools, colleges and universities, the NHS, police forces, the Health and Safety Executive, non-departmental public bodies, committees and advisory bodies, publicly funded museums, parish councils etc. It does not cover all organisations which receive public money, for instance some charities are excluded. Some bodies only have to provide certain information. GPs, dentists and other health practitioners only have to provide information about their NHS work. The BBC, Channel 4 and Welsh channel S4C do not have to provide information about journalistic, literary or artistic activities.
The Act covers recorded information including printed documents, computer files, letters, emails, photos, sound or video recordings. Only information in recorded form is covered. New information does not have to be created.
The Act does not give people access to their own personal data such as health records or their credit reference file. To obtain such information they should make a subject access request under the Data Protection Act 1998.
PRINCIPLES BEHIND THE FREEDOM OF INFORMATION ACT
The main principle behind the Act is that people have a right to know about the activities of public authorities, unless there is a good reason for them not to know. A requester does not need to give a reason for wanting certain information and the public body must justify non disclosure. All requesters should be treated equally whether they are journalists, local residents, foreign researchers etc. Anyone can request information regardless of their age, nationality or where they live.
HOW TO MAKE A REQUEST
Make a request by letter or email giving your name, address and a detailed description of the recorded information that you require. You may be asked to pay a small amount from photocopies or postage. The information should be sent within 20 working days. If the organisation needs more time they will tell you this and when you can expect the information.
An organisation can turn down a request if they think it will cost more than £450 (£600 for a central government organisation) to deal with the request, or if the information is sensitive, in which case they must tell you why they have withheld the information.
If the information is withheld you can ask the organisation to review their decision and if you are still not satisfied you can complain to the ICO.
INFORMATION COMMISSIONER’S OFFICE
The Office deals with approximately 25000 freedom of information complaints and 50000 complaints from members of the public about issues connected with personal information.
It also monitors organisations to form a view of their performance in adhering to the law, in particular whether they are responding to requests within appropriate timescales. The ICO has made its internal freedom of information and environmental information knowledge base available to the public to access
ENVIRONMENTAL INFORMATION REGULATIONS 2004
Public authorities have a legal obligation to provide information about the environment through an approved publication scheme and in response to requests. The principle behind the regulations is that by giving the public access to information it will encourage greater awareness of issues that affect the environment which in turn will help increase public participation in decision-making. It should also make public bodies more accountable.