Data Protection Act 1998

The 1998 Act replaced the 1984 Act, making some important changes including extending the provisions of the Act to "relevant filing systems," whether manual (paper-based) or computerized. It also replaced the Access to Health Records Act 1990, with the exception of those sections of the latter Act dealing with requests for access to information about deceased patients, and enacted new provisions about access to health records, both computerized and paper-based, in respect of living persons.

The 1998 Act introduced sweeping changes to the UK law governing all aspects of processing information about identifiable individuals. Much of the Act is already in force but some provisions are not yet operative. The Act applies to all personal and sensitive data held within 'a relevant filing system,' whether or not the system is computerized. It regulates the processing, use, and storage of information relating to individuals including the obtaining, holding, use, or disclosure of such information, which is "being processed by means of equipment operating automatically in response to instructions given for that purpose" (that is, data held on computers). It gives individuals rights of access to personal data and to know how they are stored and processed. All those who control data (that is, determine the purposes for which data are stored and the manner in which data are processed) must comply with the provisions of the Act. Comparable provisions extend throughout the European Union, giving effect to the Data Protection Principles1.

Schedule 1, Part 1 of the Data Protection Act 1998.

The individual whose data is stored has rights of access to check what is held and to require correction of inaccurate information. Those who suffer financial loss as a consequence of inaccurate information can seek compensation. Those who operate the data systems (and this may include doctors who use computers to record information about patients) must ensure that they comply with the provisions of the legislation, including the rights of data subjects to have access to personal data.

There are exceptions for the processing of sensitive personal data (as defined in section 2 of the Act) for medical purposes by a health professional (as defined in section 69). Medical purposes include the provision of pre-ventative medicine, medical diagnosis, medical research, the provision of care and treatment, and the management of health care services. Readers are referred to texts on the provisions of the Act for a more detailed exposition of its provisions and ramifications.

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