Monday, 2 May 2011

ICO Data Protection Principles and Online Applications

Schedule 1 to the UK Data Protection Act lists 8 data protection principles. You can read more on the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) website here. If you are developing an online application which processes personal information what are the implications?

This blog entry delves a bit deeper.

Privacy Notice

First, a short discussion about the "privacy notice". According to the ICO, this is the notice "that individuals are given when information about them is collected". Typically you will display it on your website.  The ICO has issued a Privacy Notices Code of Practice  "to help organisations draft clear privacy notices and to ensure they collect information about people fairly and transparently".

Having a proper "Privacy Notice" in place is the main step you can take in adhering to a number of the Data Protection Principles.  So one of your first tasks is to develop an appropriate Privacy Notice and then to adhere to it.

Data Protection Principles

The following sections lists the principles and the implications they may have for your online development.

Principle 1
Personal data shall be processed fairly and lawfully and, in particular, shall not be processed unless –

(a) at least one of the conditions in Schedule 2 is met, and

(b) in the case of sensitive personal data, at least one of the conditions in Schedule 3 is also met.

Implication: Have an appropriate Privacy Notice in place.
                                                                           *      *      *

Principle 2
Personal data shall be obtained only for one or more specified and lawful purposes, and shall not be further processed in any manner incompatible with that purpose or those purposes.

Implication: Have an appropriate Privacy Notice in place.
                                                                           *      *      *

Principle 3
Personal data shall be adequate, relevant and not excessive in relation to the purpose or purposes for which they are processed.

Implication: Have an appropriate Privacy Notice in place.
                                                                           *      *      *

Principle 4
Personal data shall be accurate and, where necessary, kept up to date.

Implication: The application will need to be able to provide users with access to their personal information. The application should also have a mechanism to allow personal information to be updated. For example, if a user moves home, the application should have a facility in place which supports address updates. Either the user does this themselves directly by logging on, or a Customer Services Agent has the ability to do this on behalf of the customer.
                                                                           *      *      *

Principle 5

Personal data processed for any purpose or purposes shall not be kept for longer than is necessary for that purpose or those purposes.

Implication: This should be covered under a data retention policy. The application will need a manual delete function which removes a user's personal information. Either the user does this themselves directly by logging on, or a Customer Services Agent has the ability to do this on behalf of the customer.

The application may also need an automated delete mechanism which automatically erases customer information after a certain period of time or inactivity.

You need to be careful about this principle as it may conflict with other requirements which force you to maintain records for a certain minimum period of time. This could especially be the case with financial transactions.

Another tricky area is audit trails. How long should they be retained for?
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Principle 6
Personal data shall be processed in accordance with the rights of data subjects under this Act.

Implication: Have an appropriate Privacy Notice in place.
                                                                           *      *      *

Principle 7
Appropriate technical and organisational measures shall be taken against unauthorised or unlawful processing of personal data and against accidental loss or destruction of, or damage to, personal data.

Implication:  This is where the main information security good practices come into play. These include topics such as authentication, authorisation, encryption, audit trail, OWASP Top 10 etc. The Security Requirements section of the SDLC Quick Reference is essentially aimed at trying to meet the requirements of this principle.
                                                                           *      *      *


Principle 8
Personal data shall not be transferred to a country or territory outside the European Economic Area unless that country or territory ensures an adequate level of protection for the rights and freedoms of data subjects in relation to the processing of personal data. 

Implication:  Before transferring personal data to a third country, you need to ensure that the third country has adequate levels of protection in place.  You need to be careful about using real personal information in development and test environments - especially if you outsource development to third parties.

Subject Access Request

One of the main rights which the UK Data Protection Act gives to individuals is the right of access to their personal information. A user can send a Subject Access Request  requiring you to provide them with a copy of the personal information that you hold about them.

Implication:  Your application should provide functionality which supports this requirement. When a Subject Access Request arrives, your application should have a function which can return all information for that user.

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