CASE STUDY 7/96
Legal notification of scheme
A State agency wished to notify potential clients of a proposed new scheme. An advertising campaign was planned, but previous experience suggested that it would be prudent to notify people individually as well. An unrelated Government Department had a database of clients which would serve as a suitable proxy for the new client group. The State agency ideally wished to have a copy of the names and addresses of the Departmentís clients; alternatively it wished the Department to issue a mail shot on its behalf.
The proposal seemed pragmatic, but raised data protection issues in relation to compatible use and disclosure (section 2 (1) (c) (ii)) and lawful purpose (section 2 (1) (c) (i)) The Department had obtained the data from its clients to implement EU schemes. This was the lawful purpose for which it kept the personal data to which access was sought by the agency in question. I queried the Departmentís legal capacity to keep personal data for the purpose of facilitating the agency and also questioned the compatibility of the proposed use and/or disclosure.
The agency told my Office that statutory regulations were being drafted to implement the new scheme. My Office suggested that they consult the parliamentary draftsman about the feasibility of requiring the Department to disclose names and addresses to them for the purpose of notifying people of the details of the scheme. This would serve to lift the disclosure restrictions imposed by the Data Protection Act (section 8 (e)). However, there were other considerations which made this option unattractive.
In the end the State agency, having considered the data protection issues, came up with its own solution. It would use the Publicity Post service of An Post to send unaddressed letters to all households in the geographic areas of relevance to the agency. This involved no use of personal data, and thus the state agency avoided any difficulties under the Act.
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