Data Protection not an Act to take lightly

The incoming Data Protection Act is a nightmare waiting to happen for HR.
Not only are the requirements of the Act incredibly complicated, but the Data
Protection Registrar hasn’t got around to issuing all the relevant guidance yet
– and may not do so for another few months.

Make no mistake, this Act will have ramifications for you. For example, from
March if you are sending personal data on staff to an overseas parent company,
you need to get consent from the individuals concerned. Imagine being asked for
information on line managers to inform an internal restructuring: asking for
consent is bound to upset staff.

All it will take is a disgruntled ex-employee to prove that a former
employer is using information about them in contravention of the Act to open the
Pandora’s box. And the frantic document shredding being carried out just shows
how seriously it is being taken.

The Act was always going to create problems, the registrar dragging its feet
on guidance is making life really difficult. The confusion is highlighted by
the fact that the registrar is apparently unable to explain the key points of
the Act, saying it is too complicated. How the hell are ordinary HR
professionals on the front line supposed to understand?

This is not facetious nit-picking. Consultants warn the lack of guidance is
making it extremely difficult for them to advise clients on what to do.
Companies should not be put under this pressure – it is that simple.

The least the registrar should do is allow firms an extra month or so’s
grace on top of the 18 months they have to comply with all sections of the Act
in recognition that the lack of guidance has caused extra work.

Of course the shoddy implementation of legislation is not limited to Data
Protection, it is a symptom of wider problems with employment law highlighted
by Personnel Today’s campaign with the EFSP for better regulation. And this
week there is a glimmer of hope that the message is getting across. Stephen
Byers has agreed to meet the EFSP’s Robbie Gilbert to discuss the issues raised
by the campaign. It is too early to claim any victory for the campaign, but it
is interesting that the DTI’s attitude has changed from outright denial that
there was a problem in such a short space of time. Watch this space.

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