What is the point of the Code of
Practice on the use of personal data in relationships between employers and
staff? Given that we have had the Data Protection Act 1998 in force since March
2000, the only justification for yet more guidelines on personnel records and
the monitoring of staff communications is that this would help companies to
comply with the Act.
Orwellian-sounding Information Commission must have been trying to achieve this
when it set about producing a final draft of the code, after the first draft
was widely criticised. This has obviously proved a headache for commissioner
Elizabeth France and her team as the publication has been delayed and the final
version is likely to reach us in instalments like a baggy Victorian novel –
only nothing like as readable.
No doubt the
Information Commission thought that publishing five lengthy volumes would mean
no loopholes would be left open and no ambiguity left unclarified. On top of this,
the commission has gone beyond the requirements of the original Act and thrown
in a lot of extra "helpful" guidelines.
The problem with
producing reams of guidelines is that nobody will read them. In the real world
it will be left to gather dust on the shelf or remain unread on the company
It is a reality of
business life that you can only disseminate good practice and regulations by
breaking them down into a concise and accessible format, which is what the CIPD
has called for. Otherwise the Information Commission is simply shoving
everything including the kitchen sink into the code and waiting to say "I
told you so" when employers fall foul of the law.
Do us a favour, Ms
France, and translate the code into a format organisations can actually use.