What is Legislation?
In this case, legislation is the law or laws that determine(s) how data can be stored, accessed and changed. For example the laws may determine who can have access to data held in databases, how long data can be stored for, whether individuals have the right to know what data is stored about themselves, what is data is found to be incorrect

The 1998 Data Protection Act was passed by Parliament to control the way information is handled and to give legal rights to people who have information stored about them. But why was there a need for this legislation?
The power of the computer
During the second half of the 20th century computers were getting more powerful and easy to use. Companies, government and other organisations began to use them to store large amounts of information about people, such as their customers, clients and staff. **Databases** with this information can be quickly set up, searched, edited and accessed and take up less space than paper records.
Personal data on computer
Instead of paper records, computers were also being used routinely to keep personal data about people. This information included:-
  • names
  • addresses
  • financial information
  • medical records
  • criminal records
  • employment history
For example, being a member of a sports club would mean that your name, age, medical details and payment record would be stored on a computer file.
Ease of access to the information
The information stored could be far more easily and flexibly used than if it was stored on paper. For example, a database could be searched to find all customers living in a particular area, to target them for "special offer" advertising. Searches of databases like this are much faster with computers and, in particular, information can be matched from one database to another far more than if it is stored on paper. The **Database** section has more on searching.
Communications networks
Storing information about people on computers which are linked to communications **networks** like the **Internet** or private company networks has also become important. This allows databases to be used across an organisation and be shared between organisations very quickly.
Misuse of information
With more and more organisations using computers to store and process personal information, there was a danger the information could be misused or could get into the wrong hands.
A number of concerns arose about how this information could be used:-
  • Could it be easily copied?
  • Could it be changed with little evidence being left?
  • Who could see this information?
  • How accurate was the information?
  • Was it be possible to build up detailed files on people without their knowledge or permission?


Evidence of issue:

Many databases – which consist of individual pieces of information that have been organized in one collection so that the data are easier to access – are protected under copyright law because of the creative way that the information in them is selected, coordinated and arranged. However, under traditional copyright law, basic factual information is in the public domain and is not entitled to copyright protection. That means that databases that do not have a creative or original element – such as a phone book white pages – are not protected under U.S. copyright law.

Area of impact:


Home Secretary Jack Straw has announced plans to increase the police's DNA database. Civil liberties groups have serious misgivings about the proposal, which could have far-reaching consequences.

Jack Straw has announced plans to change the law to allow the police to keep all fingerprints and DNA samples even if a suspect is acquitted or never charged.
The proposal is included in the Criminal Justice and Police Bill, which was published on Friday.
At present fingerprints and DNA profiles - genetic fingerprints which can help prove a person's guilt - have to be destroyed if charges are dropped or a suspect acquitted.
The bill would allow them to be retained.
It also allows for DNA samples procured for reasons of elimination - for example when men living in the locality of a rape or murder volunteer their DNA in order to help police narrow down their list of suspects - to be retained.
But in this case, the donors have to give their written consent for police to keep their samples, otherwise they will be destroyed.
Both changes should increase the number of samples in the police's database from 940,000 to about three million in the next three years.
(BBC news 19 January, 2001)