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The Information Commissioner's Office is to consult about a new code of practice for sharing personal data.

The data protection watchdog is to invite views about the 40-page draft code, which aims to create a model of good practice for public, private and third sector organisations.

Christopher Graham, the information commissioner, said he would encourage all organisations who handle personal data to offer their comments.

The code covers a number of areas including:

the factors an organisation must take into account when coming to a decision about whether to share personal data; the point at which individuals should be told about their data being shared; the security and staff training measures that must be put in place; the rights of the individual to access their personal data; and when it's not acceptable to share personal data.

It also covers routine data sharing as well as one-off instances where a decision is made to release data to a third party. These could include a school passing information about a child to a social services department or GPs sending a patient's record to a hospital.

But compliance with the code will not be mandatory, where it goes beyond the requirement of the Data Protection Act.

Graham said: "Under the right circumstances and for the right reasons, data sharing across and between organisations can play a crucial role in providing a better, more efficient service to customers in a range of sectors – both public and private. But citizens' and consumers' rights under the Data Protection Act must be respected.

"Organisations that don't understand what can and cannot be done legally are as likely to disadvantage their clients through excessive caution as they are by carelessness. But when things go wrong this can cause serious harm. We want citizens and consumers to be able to benefit from the responsible sharing of information, confident that their personal data is being handled responsibly and securely."

The consultation will run for 12 weeks ending on 5 January 2011.

This article was originally published at Kable.

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