1-in-5 businesses admit to breaching the Data Protection Act

First Standard for the management of personal information published today

First Standard for the management of personal information published todayFirst Standard for the management of personal information published today

Almost one in five businesses has unwittingly breached the Data Protection Act (DPA) at least once according to a recent survey of over 500 small and medium sized businesses. Of these, nearly half said they had probably breached the Act on several occasions.

A further additional 18% of SMEs are not sure whether they had breached the DPA or not. A ‘breach’ could refer to the illegal transfer of information to a third party, failure to hold information securely or neglect of other legal obligations.

The research, conducted by BSI*, provides a snapshot of how UK businesses manage the personal information they hold on staff and customers, including sensitive data such as racial or ethnic origin, trade union membership and criminal proceedings.

It was carried out to mark the publication today by BSI of a new British Standard which will help organisations put in place a framework for maintaining and improving compliance with data protection legislation and best practice.

"Data protection – Specification for a personal information management system" is the first Standard for the management of personal information and is launched at today’s Data Protection Forum in London.

The research also found that:

  • 65% of businesses provide no data protection training for their staff.
  • Nearly half of those businesses surveyed admit that there is no one in their business with specific responsibility for data protection.
  • 15% of businesses are not confident that their data sharing practices conform to the DPA and worryingly, almost 5% of these frequently share data regardless.
  • 18% of businesses said that data protection is less of a priority in the current economic climate.

Mike Low, Director, Standards, BSI, said:

"The 5 million small and medium sized businesses in the UK form the backbone of the British economy. These organisations are handling vast amounts of personal information on a daily basis and while it is encouraging that some already have appropriate data protection measures in place this survey clearly shows that there is still a long way to go.

"A third of businesses stated that the complexity of the legislation restricts their compliance with the DPA. The new standard addresses this and many other issues, providing organisations with a framework for maintaining and improving compliance and demonstrating that they are handling personal information responsibly."

Rather than prescribing exactly how operations should be run, the new Standard, BS 10012, provides the framework which will enable effective management of personal information. It can be used by organisations of any size and sector to create a tailored management system which includes procedures in areas such as training and awareness, risk assessment, data sharing, retention and disposal of data and disclosure to third parties.

BS 10012 was developed by a panel of experts including representatives from industry, government, academia and consumer groups. A three month public comment period produced a high number of comments all of which were considered by the panel before preparation of the final version of the standard.

* The research was conducted on behalf of BSI by Opinion Matters between 11/05/2009 and 18/05/2009 amongst a nationally representative sample of 516 Senior Decision Makers in SMEs.

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