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Oh phooey! Microsoft's data protection registration has not, as it so baldly states on the Data Protection Register web site, expired after all.

No, the Data Protection Register is wot to blame. The guardian of our personal data has a big backlog in processing registrations and - it looks like - an even bigger backlog in updating the list on the DPR Web site.

On Monday, we noted that an online check shows that Microsoft Ltd's entry in the Data Protection Register expired on January 8. Not so. Microsoft sent in its registration update on 23 December and it is registered until January 8, 2004, the company tells us.

A spokesperson in the Information Commissioner's office (which administers the Data Protection Act 1998) confirmed that Microsoft had made the Jan 8 deadline. Companies can continue to lawfully hold and process personal data, so long as the DPR receives valid applications by their due date, the organisation says.

Which is a relief, not just for Microsoft but for the many other organisations including Novell UK, Ford Motor Company, Gameplay, Manchester United Football Club Ltd and (most surprisingly) the Cabinet Office whose entries have expired since mid-December, according to publicly available records.

The Information Commissioner's office was unable to tell us how many applications are still to be processed but suggested the backlog runs to a "couple of weeks".

The public register is updated weekly, and it may be several weeks before new notifications, renewals and amendments appear online.

A spokesperson for the Information Commissioner's office said the current backlog in processing applications is greater than usual, noting that the organisation has been "inundated" with complaints about third party registration services.

Companies are advised to submit applications to the Information Commissioner (and pay £35) rather than trust third parties (typically charging £95) with no connection to the Commissioner. Its strongly worded warning on the subject can be found here.

So, companies have nothing to fear, if their application is submitted on time to the Commissioner -even if their entry has not yet been updated. It's important to remember that failure to submit an application is a serious matter.

The Data Protection Act 1998 requires every data controller (excluding limited exceptions) who is processing personal data to submit a registration. Failure to do so means a company is, under UK law, illegally holding personal data and might become subject to criminal prosecution. ®

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