Data protection and the law

June 5, 2008

Part of my role involves the development of staff training materials to raise levels of awareness and proficiency concerning data protection ("Don't tell mum: academic censured for discussing son's course load", 15 May; Letters, 22 and 29 May).

The Information Commissioner's Office speaks strongly in support of new proposals, namely the increased penalties contained in the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill, concerning "the data protection offences of disclosing, obtaining or procuring information without consent". Indeed, says the ICO, "Section 55 of the Data Protection Act 1998 means that this has been a criminal offence for many years, but has only attracted derisory penalties".

Institutions should be aware that potentially, at least, criminal sanctions await the unlawful disclosure of personal data describing students - or staff for that matter. Data-protection compliance is a discrete issue, apart from issues of confidentiality, and should become a true consideration in all aspects and forms of teaching, assessment and research.

Jamie Grace, Associate lecturer in law, University of Derby.

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