Data Protection Commissioner

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Information kept by the Companies Registration Office used for marketing purposes – issues relating to data which must be made public

I have had several complaints from company directors who found that information about them had been obtained from the Companies Registration Office and was to be published in a trade directory. One complaint came from a trade association which felt that the publication of the information could expose some of its members to personal danger. Most of the people who complained to me were unhappy when I told them that restrictions on disclosure set out in the Act did not apply because section 1 (4) (b) of the Act specifically excludes from its remit personal data consisting of information that the person keeping the data is required by law to make available to the public - as the Companies Registration Office is required to do.

In my last Annual Report I mentioned a case in which a local authority used information from the electoral register for a purpose that was not related to the register itself. (The electoral register is used as a source of names and addresses by many individuals and companies, including the publishers of a major periodical based in the United Kingdom.) Such uses of information required by law to be made publicly available may not contravene the letter of the Act, but in my view they come close to exploiting a loophole in it. I intend to pursue this point in the context of the amending legislation which will arise from the transposition into national law of the EU Directive on data protection.

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