Archives are made and formed by people and consequently include personal information about those people. Whether a researcher requests details of an ancestor who attended Camborne School of Mines, minutes from a meeting, or wishes to look at University records it is very likely that at some point personal information will become evident. Therefore, any researcher intending to look at archive material is required to sign an agreement that they will take responsibility for appropriate use of any personal information found, in accordance with Data Protection principles. It was for this reason I was keen to refresh my knowledge of the legislation. Subsequently, I undertook and completed a course designed to introduce University staff to their responsibilities under the Act.
Data Protection is not just an issue for professionals and organisations. Every individual is inherently entitled to a number of subject rights, such as the right to request information held about them by an organisation. The course approached what can be a very complicated subject by looking at these rights and how the act protects and influences every individual. It then progressed to our professional positions and the responsible use of other people's information in performing that role.
For any information professional, knowledge of legislation relating to information rights is essential. With the Information Commissioner able to impose fines of up to £500,000, it is an imperative to maintain an Archivist's and Organisation's professional reputation and the welfare of those individuals whose information we hold. Whether a breach occurs due to accidental loss, theft or simply released in error, the ICO does not differentiate. Having had both our laptops in the Archive Service recently encrypted to meet legislative requirements, it is interesting that just two months ago an unencrypted device belonging to the police service was stolen. This resulted in the loss of sensitive personal information relating to over one thousand people and the imposition of a fine of £150,000.
More recently privacy laws have come to the fore with the recommendations of the Leveson inquiry to repeal the journalism exemption within the Data Protection Act, and in so doing, providing legislative power over the press. The debate as to the importance of a free press within a democracy and the effects of legislative control on society demonstrate how far reaching the Data Protection laws are; thereby affecting all.
Webster, Ben 'Newspaper bosses told to prove they can sort out press without a new law', The Times 1st Dec 2012
Information Commissioner's Office, 'Monetary penalty notices' http://www.ico.gov.uk/enforcement/fines.aspx [Accessed 3/12/12]