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Government personal data handling 'better'

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Measures put in place by the Government to better protect individuals' personal data have been successful but more work is needed, according to the first annual internal report due under the new regime.

After a series of embarrassing losses of personal information, including the 2007 loss of discs containing the names, addresses and bank details of 25 million child benefit claimants, the Government conducted a Data Handling Review (DHR).

The job of the DHR was to change the way that Government treated personal and sensitive data. The Review, completed in 2008, ordered that an annual report be published on the progress of the plans.

"The cultural, procedural and technical measures put in place by the DHR have led to a substantial improvement in the way that government protects information," said the report. "It is also clear that the landscape is continually changing and that we must adapt accordingly."

"A huge amount of work has been, and will continue to be, devoted to making sure the right protection for information is in place. There is no doubt that this task, and keeping pace with change is and remains, challenging," said the report. "The way that the internet has changed and shaped society over the course of the last decade serves to highlight the importance of information, how it is held, transferred and used."

The original Review did not examine the circumstances of previous data losses, but looked forward to proposed changes in Government behaviour. It was carried out by Cabinet Secretary Gus O'Donnell and recommended the establishment of minimum security measures across Government for personal data; mandatory training for civil servants; and the establishment of standard data security responsibilities within departments.

"We have made significant and far-reaching progress in bringing about a culture change in the way that we value and handle personal data," said O'Donnell in the report on the progress made since 2008. "We have tightened processes and enhanced the skills of public sector staff that handle personal data with well over 450,000 civil servants trained in data security awareness since the publication of the DHR."

Information Commissioner Christopher Graham said in the report that his organisation still had work to do to ensure the full implementation of the DHR's recommendations.

"Armed with our new powers of assessment, the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) will aim to help Departments to live up to their commitments," he said. "In this way, the ICO will be helping to keep Whitehall up to scratch. But we also have a major job of education to do, helping organisations, both public and private, stick to the rules and keep out of trouble."

"It is clear that there remains no room for complacency," said Graham. "As organisations continue to use information, and do so in new ways, government must keep pace and ensure that the right protections are in place to safeguard public trust."

See:

* The report (30-pg/850KB pdf)

* The Data Handling Review (46-pg/218KB pdf)

Copyright © 2010, OUT-LAW.com

OUT-LAW.COM is part of international law firm Pinsent Masons.

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