A rant about Data Protection

13 03 2009

The recent uproar over the revelation that a company called The Consulting Association (TCA) maintained a blacklist of “problem” employees which it then passed on to construction companies, reminded me of the National Staff Dismissal Register set up in the retail industry last year and which I wrote about in these pages last October.  In that case Action Against Business Crime (AABC), a consortium formed between the Home Office (!!!)  and the British Retail Consortium, set up a scheme to share information between potential employers of details of employees dismissed for offences of dishonesty, but not convicted in the criminal courts of wrongdoing.  In other words if an employer dismissed an employee for theft or fraud they would then place that person’s details on the NSDR and thus make it much harder for them to get alternative work, at least within the retail sector.  At the time it was claimed that this didn’t breach the Data Protection Act (DPA), which claim I still find rather surprising.

What is so very different about TCA’s activities?   The Information Commissioner says that they have committed a serious breach of the DPA and could be prosecuted for failing to register itself as a data holder under the DPA.  The BBC reports that information passed on by TCA to its subscribers was highly prejudicial and personal, such as “Irish ex-Army, bad egg” and “ex-shop-steward, definite problems” and included people who had raised health and safety issues on construction sites and union membership.  These are all issues which are covered by legislation designed to protect workers.  For instance, if a worker is dismissed for belonging to a Union it will be an automatically unfair dismissal, as it will if someone is dismissed for raising health and safety issues.  Anti-discrimination laws prevent a person being discriminated against on grounds of nationality – and that covers recruitment of staff as well as not subjecting them to detriment when actually in employment.  What the TCA is alleged to have done is more extreme than the NSDR scheme, but the principal is the same – personal information is being disseminated about workers who have no knowledge of the disclosure or right of redress and without any safeguards in place on the accuracy of the information. These types of scheme need to be banned: they are a far more insidious threat to our personal liberty than the ubiquitous CCTV cameras that watch our movements wherever we go. 

“Usefully Employed” also posted an interesting piece on this very issue earlier this week – see the link to his blog on my blogroll.

This article will appear in the “Docklands” and “Peninsula” newspapers week commencing 16th March. 

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16 03 2009
Blawg Review #203 « GeekLawyer’s Blog

[…] Michael Scutt, again, gets justifiably upset about the outrageous, and unlawful, recently discovered database run by the construction industry […]

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