Thursday, 26 November 2009

What is the Point of Data Protection?

This article caught my eye today. There are calls to make a rough census from 1939 public. I am amazed at the comments from people that say this information should be made public. No doubt these are the same people who get annoyed when they recieve telemarketing calls or junk mail. Or their personal data being used for other purposes, outwith their control.

When I worked for the NHS archive, you used to get a lot of people coming through the 'back door' to trace relatives. This usually applied to individuals who were adopted or who had lost contact with their birth parents. In the eyes of the NHS record keeping authorities, the ownership of someone's birth record does not lie with the child but with the mother. So if these enquiries came in then we had to ask the enquirier to follow a certain procedure. They either had to provide written permission from their mother to release the information or evidence of her death. You'd rarely hear from these people again.

This is why I believe the 75 year rule is fine and dandy for these kind of records. In Scotland, the census is locked tight for 100 years for the potential problems they could throw up. Like the situation described above. How would an elderly woman feel if someone turned up at their door one day and said they were her child given up for adoption? Hence the existence of agencies such as Barnardos who handle such enquiries. It is not always a person's right, or appropriate, for them to have such information at their fingertips.

Yes records have been kept so people can use them for informational purposes. But we also have to respect the data subjects recorded in these documents. That is why I believe the early release of these records should not be considered. Although the introduction of an application basis with evidence that individuals are deceased could be the way forward.

This surge of legislation does not automatically mean people have the right to access information that does not relate directly to them as data subjects.

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