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Take care over new data protection

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letters

I wonder if readers are aware of their potential liabilities under the provisions of the Data Protection Act 1998, which are expected to come into force on a date shortly to be announced, possibly 1 July 1999. The significance of the provisions is indicated by the government's £1 billion estimate for business compliance costs.

The need for data protection grew out of public concern about personal privacy in the face of rapidly developing computer technology, which as well as benefits has introduced dangers arising from inaccurate or dated records.

Architects, and other businesses and individuals ('data users') who maintain and process records of living and indentifiable persons will be affected. Records of employees, tenants and personnel, as well as those for marketing, public relations, technical approvals, training and other forms of administrative activity, including club memberships, will bring a liability to comply with the radically altered reponsibilities imposed by the act.

Essentially, the act allows individuals to have access to and obtain a copy of information about themselves which 'data users' may hold, as well as requiring that it be deleted or corrected. Furthermore, they are entitled to know the source of the data, for what purposes the data is held, and to whom it may be disclosed. Also, misuse of information or failure to provide protection of data carries a fine for 'data users' found guilty, and possibly a liablility to compensate affected individuals.

What this means is that architects and other businesses and organisations should verify that their business practices 'ensure respect for the privacy of their customers, tenants, clients and employees'. Also, with a few exceptions, 'data users' who hold or control information must register with the Data Protection Registrar (01625 545740). Failure to do so is a criminal offence.

Edward Samples

Ponteland, Northumberland

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