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The Data Protection Act, 1998

By completing one of our research application forms, you agree to abide by the terms of this Act in your use of the information which you obtain during your research here. The comparatively recent date of many of the records in our care means that a large number of the people mentioned in them are, or may be, still alive. Under the Data Protection Act 1998, a researcher is responsible for any personal data concerning living individuals that s/he takes away from the Centre (i.e. her / his notes, research data, photocopying). To use the terminology of the Act, the researcher becomes the ‘data controller’ of the information (that is, the person who determines the purposes for which, and the manner in which any personal data are, or are to be, processed). The individual who is a subject of the data is a data subject.

Under the Act, use of personal data for research, history and statistics is made upon two conditions:

  • that the data is not processed to support measures or decisions with respect to particular individuals

  • that the data is not processed in such a way that substantial damage or substantial distress is, or is likely to be, caused to any data subject

The best way to ensure compliance with these conditions is to anonymise the results of your research, in other words get them into a form in which living individuals cannot be identified. This will also exempt you from the data subjects’ right of access to their personal information.

In deciding when it is appropriate to use/publish personal information, consider:

  • Is the individual still alive?
  • Is the information already published/in the public domain?
  • Is the individual a public figure? (this may mean that information is more likely to be in the public domain, is less sensitive, or that its publication is more likely to be in the public interest)
  • Does the information belong to a sensitive category of information as defined by the Act? The researcher may need to acquire permission from the data subject to publish if s/he doesn’t anonymise
  • As well as anonymising names, be mindful of context, which may identify an individual as clearly as giving a name: (eg) Disciplinary Hearing: Headmaster, Borsington School, 1978

This guidance does not constitute legal advice, nor is a substitute for it. A fuller version of the guidance, with links to relevant external websites, is also available.(PDF Document)