Hot Tip! Data Protection Act

United Kingdom
The Data Protection Act 1998 (the "Act") has been in force for over 2 years, and most companies have now introduced policies to deal with its requirements. One of the most fundamental aspects of the Act is that an individual can require a company which holds his/her personal data to disclose this information to him. This applies to any individual, from inside or outside the company, about whom the company holds personal data. The company must then disclose all the personal data on that individual that it has in its possession. Personal data is defined by the Act as data relating to any living individual who can be identified from that data, including any expression of opinion about that individual.

This requirement has been the source of a great deal of embarrassment for companies holding personal data that they would rather not disclose to the individual concerned. However, some of this information may not necessarily need to be disclosed on request by an individual. There are a number of exemptions to the Act which remove the obligation of disclosure in certain circumstances. Among the less well-known exemptions is information which is subject to legal professional privilege. This means that documents containing information about an individual or "data subject" need not be disclosed on request if they are communications passing between the company and his/her solicitor which have been made confidentially for the purposes of giving or receiving legal advice. The exemption also covers documents which circulate legal advice obtained from a company's solicitor to other members of staff. Therefore, if your company wishes to circulate sensitive material containing personal data, it should obtain advice from the company's legal department or obtain external legal advice on the matter, and circulate this to its employees as a means of communicating information about the individual concerned without the threat of disclosure.

For further information please contact Tim Hardy by telephone on +44(0)20 7367 2533 or by e-mail at