Email and the Law

The Data Protection Act – an introduction

DPA: three initials to strike fear into the heart on anyone with a business which includes processing personal information, including email marketing. But in practice it is little more than a set of rules which would be sensible to comply with anyway. It strikes what many feel is a reasonable balance between the interests of individuals and those who wish, for valid and lawful reasons, to store and use personal information. The wording is clear and, whilst complete precision is too much to hope for, there are few ambiguities.

Personal data is defined as data on living, identified or identifiable individuals and includes facts and opinions. If your business processes such information then you should notify The Information Commissioner’s Office. Registration costs from £35 pa for smaller businesses.

Exemptions are few and can include information for accounting or auditing, and pensions and insurance administration.

The DPA requires the data to be:

  • fairly and lawfully processed,
  • processed for limited purposes,
  • adequate, relevant and not excessive,
  • accurate and up to date,
  • not kept longer than necessary,
  • processed in accordance with the individual’s rights,
  • secure,
  • not transferred to a country outside the EEC unless it has adequate protection for the individual.

For the information to be fairly processed one of the following conditions must apply:

  • there has been explicit consent from the individual to the processing
  • it is required by law to process the information for employment purposes or some other legal requirement
  • processing is required to protect the vital interests of the individual
  • processing is required to carry out public functions
  • processing is required in order to pursue the legitimate interests of the data controller or third parties although this does not apply if it could unjustifiably prejudice the interests of the individual

It is good advice to seek advice from a lawyer of those trained in The DPA and this document should be treated as an introduction only and not relied on as definitive. However, there is limited small print and such advice is often definitive.



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