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Youth Justice Board about to face legal onslaught

Children's rights group ARCH prepares for war

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The Youth Justice Board and the Information Commissioner (ICO) may have reached a polite gentleman’s agreement that, even if the law is being broken, that’s OK for now, because the ICO got it wrong in the first place.

But it may be too little, too late for children’s rights organisation ARCH, which is now threatening local Youth Offending Teams (YOTs) with legal action and costly law enforcement.

The issue was first raised last summer when ARCH noticed that the Youth Justice Board’s new Information management system was uploading data from local YOTs that was potentially personal. That is, although no name or address was held, details such as postcode, age, gender and ethnic status allowed individuals to be identified and therefore this was "personal data" within the meaning of the Data Protection Act.

Furthermore, given the nature of the information being transferred, it was also sensitive and such data could not lawfully be processed unless either the data subject (the young person to whom the information refers) gave explicit consent or its processing was necessary in order for a statutory function to be carried out.

ARCH concluded that neither of these conditions held, so data transfer from YOTs to the YJB’s management information system was unlawful. However, because the ICO had originally mistakenly ruled that the transfer was lawful, in July of this year it was not minded to slap on a notice stopping such transfers from happening. Instead, the ICO handed out advice to the YJB, and the YJB promised to review the issue and – hopefully – put changes to the system in place in October.

Yesterday, ARCH upped the ante, sending out letters to the chief executives of local YOTs in which it states: "If you have uploaded personal data [to the YJB] in the past you acted unlawfully, and you must now ask the Youth Justice Board to delete the information from YJMIS. If you fail to do so or continue to upload personal data to YJMIS we will take enforcement action against you. This may include issuing legal proceedings, and we would apply for you to have to pay any costs that we incur.

"We should be grateful if you would confirm in writing that any personal data uploaded in the past will be withdrawn from YJMIS and that you agree not to upload personal data in the future."

A terse response wings its way over to us from the YJB, as a spokeswoman states: "The Youth Justice MIS helps Youth Offending Teams working in the youth justice system. To ensure appropriate Information Assurance safeguards are in place, the Youth Justice Board has already engaged a CESG approved consultant to work with us and the ICO. We have invited ARCH to discuss their concerns and are awaiting their response."

It is possible that the above letter already constitutes a response: this could be about to turn messy. ®

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