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'Not at an acceptable level'

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The European Commission has recently published its first report on the implementation of the Data Protection Directive (EC/95/46) by Member states, writes John MacGowan of Bloor Research.
Unsurprisingly, the Commission concludes that the Directive does not require any modification or updating - it was how it was interpreted [by the individual Member states] that created difficulties!

The major area requiring improvement is, to quote, "the levels of compliance, enforcement and awareness are not at an acceptable level"; but there is no definition of what is deemed "acceptable".

Certainly the average citizen is unaware of their rights as a data subject; unless, perhaps he or she has failed a credit application and consequently taken a credit reference agency to task if they supplied erroneous information to the potential lender.

Of more concern is the potential misuse of medical information which could have more serious, far reaching, consequences. "Know your rights" is a mantra worth adopting.

The Commission would like to see a greater number of "Codes of Conduct" published, especially in the context of data held by employers and the disciplines to be imposed on employees. Eventually leading, no doubt, to the establishment of a European wide agreement backed by legislation - is the Prime Minister aware?

Under the intention to promote the documenting of a broader range of recommended best practices, the Commission is keen to instigate EU level investigations as a method of enforcement. Sort out the anomalies first, please. On the same subject, it was recognised that most supervisory authorities (in our case the Information Commissioner) have insufficient resources and is a serious situation that handicaps effective policing through "lack of teeth". Such comments give the engineering expression "suck it and see" a new meaning.

Greater adoption of the use of PETS is proposed (Privacy Enhancing Technologies, that is) with a certification scheme for accredited tools which effectively depersonalise data records being recommended. Yes, there is a stipulation that historical, scientific and research data may be reconstituted - but additional safeguards may be imposed and beware if you contravene your, previously supplied, 'notification' or 'processing' classifications.

The processing of sound and image data gets a mention, with special emphasis on video surveillance data. It was a live broadcast on the internet from a pub in Sweden, that led to their regulator imposing the rule that all customers had to give express consent prior to their faces being televised and that no backup tapes were allowed.

In other countries, the retention of a supermarket's CCTV data - unless required as evidence in criminal proceedings - requires the customer's consent. The Commission fear that multimedia techniques and processes will outstrip the legal texts and render them unenforceable.

Finally, recommended action on a number of issues such as a wider use of exemptions from notification, simplification of the rules governing the transfer of data outside the EU, and making data controllers less bound to respond to access requests in cases of exceptional effort/costs incurred are welcomed. What fun awaits those countries now seeking membership.

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