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July 17, 1991


By CBR Staff Writer

Eric Howe, the UK Data Protection Registrar, yesterday unveiled its seventh annual report, which details proposals that the Data Protection Office will be making to the European Commission. The report’s emphasis is on data privacy, since this is a key focus in the European Commission’s draft directive on data protection, due to be put into force next year. The EC directive is being made up from bits of the various member countries’ data rotection acts. The most controversial issue for the UK is undoubtedly the various proposals that are being put forward for national identity cards in the UK – Howe’s opinion is that it is an inevitability that a de facto standard of identification will emerge in the next couple of years, whether it be based on National Health numbers, National Insurance numbers, or driving licences. It’s all very well having access to data, Howe cautioned, but what if it gets into the wrong hands. The classic example is of course direct marketing mailing lists – just where do they get your details from? Howe suggested that if there was a better system for personal profiles made available to these departments, then at least the mailshots might be narrowed down to those recipients that might be vaguely interested, rather than just targeting every man, woman and dog. But, he says, there should be controls over the re-use of information for different applications, and individuals should have control over how their personal details are used – they should be contacted each time their details are passed on. Access to data from other countries is a potentially sensitive area – do UK citizens really want to be bombarded by junk mail from all over the Community? The control measures will no doubt be difficult to implement, but Howe’s suggestions on the whole made sense. Document image processing is one other area under scrutiny in the UK, since historical documents can be recorded and re-used in any number of applications. As yet, however, there are no plans to enforce legislation on data protection policies within companies.

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