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DPA terms 'must be tightened'

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The Government has acknowledged that much work needs to be done to improve UK data protection laws, according to a new report.

The report, by law firm Rowe Cohen, claims the Government's Data Protection Working Party has agreed that the terms of the Data Protection Act must be tightened in order to punish people who break the law. Problems such as a perceived low risk of getting caught, public ignorance over individual rights as well as a lack of enforcement by authorities, are causing many industry insiders to brand the current data protection system as 'chaotic'.

Data protection scams have been commonplace over recent months. These include fraudsters who pursued companies to register their details with them - with a subscription fee of £111- in order to escape data protection penalties.

A host of businesses, not necessarily required to register their details with officials, have been duped as a result, leading to calls that clearer guidance on the Data Protection Act (DPA) is needed.

Stewart Room, head of date protection at law firm Rowe Cohen, said: "Without an urgent improvement, businesses and individuals will continue to suffer uncertainty, ambiguity and mixed messages about the DPA.

"The DPA allows discretion amongst EU member states and this inevitably results in disparities between countries. This is compounded by the fact that national data protection laws across the EU vary - particularly where they concern enforcement.

"But this is only part of the picture. Major funding problems mean that resources are stretched and compromises have to be made."

The group believes little will be done to improve the situation over the coming months with much of the Information Commissioner's time taken up by the Freedom of Information Act.

Coming into force on 1 January 2005, the group has expressed concern that the act will have a knock-on effect for data protection compliance.

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