Data Protection : Subject Access Requests – any complaints?

Plenty

A Government Consultation Paper, published in October 2002 by the Lord Chancellor's Department, asked for opinions on whether the arrangements for 'subject access requests', under the current Data Protection legislation, were satisfactory or not, writes John MacGowan of Bloor Research.

A summary of the responses was published last week by the restructured Department for Constitutional Affairs. Whether this exercise will now lead to modifications or legal changes is most unlikely.

The number of requests generated by the DPA'98 is acknowledged as being higher than those received under the DPA'84, but no explanation is given. Perhaps companies holding personal data are now more acutely aware of their responsibilities and the rights of the data subject. Wasn't that a Government priority!

Here are the major issues causing concern:

  • Yes, charging a fee to the data subject for obtaining their data was appropriate. Some correspondents would like it to be aligned to similar fees for requests under the Freedom of Information Act, 2000 (FOI).
  • Reimbursing the fee in cases where data was processed unlawfully was recommended. "Fishing" expeditions and vexatious cases were not infrequent.
  • Difficulties had been reported in getting information requested and problems had arisen where data controllers were reluctant to confirm that they actually held any information on the data subject.
  • Locating the data requested. Data controllers should be able to ask the data subject for some assistance in locating their requested data, if necessary. No conclusions were offered on practices to be adopted where such assistance was not forthcoming, insufficient, or if the data was not in an available convenient format (i.e. hand written not computerised, third party data). Equally it was felt that refusals were automatically, yet erroneously, linked to the available 'exceptions'.
  • The lack of sufficient information on how to claim compensation was criticised.
  • The time limits for responses were deemed satisfactory, although there was no indication as to the numbers and frequency of defaulters.
  • A recommendation that in the case of difficulties data controllers must inform the data subject - before the normal time limit has expired - of the need for more time to supply the requested details and to agree on an extended deadline.
  • Frequent repeat applications for the same data within, say, a 6 month or 12 month period can be refused or alternatively subject to a "full cost recovery fee" increased charge.
  • A response time limit expressed in the number of working days permitted was a minor criticism.

Watch this space, but do not under any circumstances hold your breath.

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