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June 2011

DPA compliance: Tracking changes to Data Protection Act guidelines

For a piece of legislation that first hit the statute book in 1984, the Data Protection Act (DPA) has weathered remarkably well. By sticking to broad principles and avoiding any reference to specific technologies from the start, it has managed to stay relevant for nearly 30 years, despite huge social and technological changes. The underlying guidelines, embodied in eight simple principles, are easy to understand and remain a model of clear-sighted lawmaking. Although it was updated in 1998 to bring it into line with EU legislation (which it had influenced), the act has remained essentially the same. So why has the act caused so much confusion and been the subject of so much misinterpretation over the years? Some organisations appear to use it as a convenient veil to avoid releasing any information at all, while others still treat personal information with reckless abandon. Even the police got it wrong, most notably in the Soham murders investigation of 2002 where an overly strict interpretation of the act’s requirements caused ...

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