Rochdale Council Questioned Over Data Disclosure
The exact requirements of principle one in the Data Protection Act has been called into question after Rochdale Council received complaints from members of the public over the disclosure of telephone numbers to a third-party.
The council was criticized by members of the public after it disclosed the private contact phone numbers of 1000 people to a external company. The London-based firm, OCR International, was hired by the council to carry out a research programme on their behalf. However, by passing individual's details onto the outside agency without consent, it was argued that the borough council was acting 'unfairly' in the eyes of the Act.
Principle one of the Data Protection Act states - Information must be processed fairly and lawfully.
This means that any personal data collected by an organisation must be provided with the consent of the individual. This is commonly identified by written disclaimers in purchase contracts that are signed. To be seen as acting fairly, the collecting company must be transparent and ensure clients are fully informed and understand what will happen to their personal information.
By not notifying individuals in advance as to the intended use of their details, in the eyes of resident, this is seen as a breach of principle one.
A spokesperson form the Information Commissioner's Office said: "The Data Protection Act helps ensure that organisations should only use people's personal details for the purpose for which they were given.
"Councils that wish to pass residents' details to a third party should give them the opportunity to day no. It is wrong to assume that members of the public will be happy for their details to be passed to a market research company charged with carrying out surveys on behalf of a council.
"Individuals should be made aware that their details will be passed to third parties and will be used in this way. This is known as fair processing and is an important principle of the Data Protection Act.
"Anyone who feels their information has not been handled in compliance with the Act can complain to the ICO".
A spokesperson for Rochdale Council argued that by disclosing the telephone numbers the organisation had done nothing wrong. "The survey complies, in full, with the Data Protection Act and we took advice from the Commissioner’s office before carrying it out."
“Research activity is covered under Section 33 of the Act. No personal data is extracted alongside the telephone numbers and consent is sought at the start of each phone call so as to avoid any distress.
“Ultimately, this survey will help us to better understand our customers and to make improvements to our services.”