Ludicrous lose-lose

December 9, 2005

The fact that students are likely to have their university bursaries delayed due to data protection requirements ("A missed tick could bite into bursaries", December 2) highlights a ludicrous situation.

A combination of over-cautious data protection officers fearful of litigation and notions of "good practice" that come from the Information Commissioner results in situations where the interests of neither the data subject nor the data controller are served.

Your article states that "informed consent" is necessary to share financial information. But financial information is not classed as "sensitive".

Guidance from the Information Commissioner states that where "the processing is necessary for the performance of a contract to which you are a party"; then consent is not necessary. Since the bursary applicant is, presumably, entering into a contract with the Student Loans Company, I cannot see why a tick box was included. But now it has been, it must be honoured.

Those who advise on data protection need to take a much more bullish view of what data controllers are permitted to do under the law, and engage in intelligent debate with the information commissioner. And that must allow for the reasonable processing of data for reasonable purposes, such as running a university bursary scheme.

Adrian P. Beney
Iain More Associates Ltd
Durham

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