The Data Protection Act and research at Dorset History Centre
The Data Protection Act 1998 protects the personal data of living individuals. By law, the History Centre has to monitor or restrict access to certain types of records which may contain personal information.
Some documents may contain personal details about living individuals that may cause substantial damage and/or distress. Therefore research into the life of someone who lived and died within the last 100 years may include records that are on restricted access. In some circumstances you may have to provide a copy of a death certificate to prove that the person has died before we can release information.
If you believe your research may be affected by the Act it is advisable to discuss your enquiry with us before you visit. We understand that restrictions to accessing records can be frustrating, but we are here to help so please do not hesitate to contact Dorset History Centre to discuss your enquiry.
What is restricted access?
- some documents can only be viewed after a Data Protection Statement has been signed
- some documents are so sensitive that we are not able to produce them in the search room. In these cases there is a procedure for requesting access to the information
- some records have a set closure period such as coroner's records (75 years) and court records (100 years). Access to these records require written authorisation from the appropriate body
- occasionally access is restricted due to third party information contained within the records
What is third party information?
An example: A record containing information about Mr A, who died in 1970, dating from the 1960s may have also give personal information about Mrs B and Mr C, and this would be regarded as 'third party information.' Mrs B and Mr C could reasonably be considered to still be alive. If the information may cause Mrs B and Mr C substantial damage and/or substantial distress then you will be unable to view the original record. However, you could use our research service to access the information you require on Mr A. You would need to provide a copy of Mr A's death certificate.
What about the Freedom of Information Act?
Because most of our records are already open to inspection, there is no need to request access through the Freedom of Information Act (s21 of the Act).
Where records are under restricted access because of the personal information they contain, the Data Protection Act overrides the Freedom of Information Act (s40 of the Act). Access to such records would be by application to the History Centre, or to the Data Protection Officer.
How do I access information about myself?
More information and instructions on how to request information about yourself can be found on our data protection page.