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Increasingly our international clients that process a lot of “personal data” are being asked about their compliance with the UK’s Data Protection Act (DPA).  Initially, I assumed that the guidance would be analogous to the 47+ US State Personally Identifiable Information (PII) laws and regulations. But on reviewing the DPA, I was very surprised about its approach and its implications. It radically changes the definition of “personal and sensitive data” and it extends notably beyond the realm of confidentiality where US PII laws focus. Under the DPA notably more personal data (e.g., sexual orientation, religion) needs to be protected. Equally significant is that not only do we need to keep that information confidential, but now we need to ensure its integrity, its availability, its accuracy, its retention, and its use. If we take a quick look at high-level definitions and principles the magnitude of this shift becomes more obvious. In particular:

  • Personal Data is effectively any data that can be used to identify an individual and/or any decision or opinion made by the data processor.
  • Sensitive Data includes information such as political opinions, sexual orientation, religious beliefs, union membership, and any information about legal proceedings.

DPA includes the following eight “Data Protection Principles” that specify that personal data must be:

  • Processed fairly and lawfully
  • Obtained for specified and lawful purposes
  • Adequate, relevant and not excessive
  • Accurate and up-to-date
  • Not kept any longer than necessary
  • Processed in accordance with the “data subject’s” (the individual’s) rights
  • Securely kept
  • Not transferred to any other country without adequate protection in situ

So the difference between complying with US PII laws (let’s throw PCI and HIPAA in) and the UK’s DPA is the difference between ensuring the confidentiality of medical or highly identifiable information (social security number, driver’s license, checking account number, credit card data) versus protecting the accuracy, timeliness, confidentiality, integrity, and full life-cycle of virtually any information you have about an individual. Wow!

Needless to say, developing a comprehensive Information Security Management System such as ISO 27001 is going to simplify addressing DPA. However, full compliance is likely going to require implementing elements of a Service Delivery Management System (e.g., ISO 20000, ITIL), an Information Technology Controls Framework (e.g., COBIT), and perhaps even a Business Continuity Management System (e.g., ISO 22301).

Never a dull moment…