European Data Protection Act of 1998

The Data Protection Act 1998 (DPA) is a United Kingdom Act of Parliament which defines UK law on the processing of data on identifiable living people. It is the main piece of legislation that governs the protection of personal data in the UK. Although the Act does not mention privacy, in practice it provides a way in which individuals can control information about themselves. Most of the Act does not apply to domestic use,[1] for example keeping a personal address book. Anyone holding personal data for other purposes is legally obliged to comply with this Act, subject to some exemptions. The Act defines eight data protection principles.

Plain-language summary of key principles

This section provides a quick overview of what the Key Principles of information-handling practice mean. The Key Principles themselves are discussed below in the context of their definition in law.

  • Data may only be used for the specific purposes for which it was collected.
  • Data must not be disclosed to other parties without the consent of the individual whom it is about, unless there is legislation or other overriding legitimate reason to share the information (for example, the prevention or detection of crime). It is an offence for Other Parties to obtain this personal data without authorisation.
  • Individuals have a right of access to the information held about them, subject to certain exceptions (for example, information held for the prevention or detection of crime).
  • Personal information may be kept for no longer than is necessary and must be kept up to date.
  • Personal information may not be sent outside the European Economic Area unless the individual whom it is about has consented or adequate protection is in place, for example by the use of a prescribed form of contract to govern the transmission of the data.
  • Subject to some exceptions for organisations that only do very simple processing, and for domestic use, all entities that process personal information must register with the Information Commissioner’s Office.
  • Entities holding personal information are required to have adequate security measures in place. Those include technical measures (such as firewalls) and organisational measures (such as staff training).
  • Subjects have the right to have factually incorrect information corrected (note: this does not extend to matters of opinion)

Data protection principles

  1. Personal data shall be processed fairly and lawfully and, in particular, shall not be processed unless-
    1. at least one of the conditions in Schedule 2 is met, and
    2. in the case of sensitive personal data, at least one of the conditions in Schedule 3 is also met.
  2. Personal data shall be obtained only for one or more specified and lawful purposes, and shall not be further processed in any manner incompatible with that purpose or those purposes.
  3. Personal data shall be adequate, relevant and not excessive in relation to the purpose or purposes for which they are processed.
  4. Personal data shall be accurate and, where necessary, kept up to date.
  5. Personal data processed for any purpose or purposes shall not be kept for longer than is necessary for that purpose or those purposes.
  6. Personal data shall be processed in accordance with the rights of data subjects under this Act.
  7. Appropriate technical and organisational measures shall be taken against unauthorised or unlawful processing of personal data and against accidental loss or destruction of, or damage to, personal data.
  8. Personal data shall not be transferred to a country or territory outside the European Economic Area unless that country or territory ensures an adequate level of protection for the rights and freedoms of data subjects in relation to the processing of personal data.