Following a run-in with the DTI over export schemes, the Channel Four political satirist Mark Thomas put in a standard ‘subject access’ request to the DTI and received a batch of more or less abusive emails revealing officials had attempted to “starve him of information”.Under the 1998 Act, which came into force in March 2000, anyone seeking to request an organisation to disclose any personal information held on them can do so, although ‘data controllers’ are entitled to charge a fee of up to 10 pounds for the information. Organisations have 40 days to respond with any information they have about the individual; a description of why the information was processed; anyone it may be passed to or seen by, and the logic involved in any automated decisions. If they fail to comply they face possible legal action. The Data Protection Commissioner Elizabeth France can demand the data be released, and in some cases compensation can be sought in the courts.
As the recognition that disclosure under the Data Protection Act applies to e-mails as well as to formal documents it will increasingly influence e-mail writing in the future.
Information provided by the E-Government Bulletin www.headstar.com/egb
For further information on data protection see: www.dataprotection.gov.uk/
The Data Protection Act 1998 is at: www.legislation.hmso.gov.uk/acts/acts1998/19980029.htm