Amendments to the Data Protection Act
covering manually kept data files
4. It was maintained by some that these provisions would only require a limited extension of data protection regulation to manual records. On a narrow interpretation information in a card index system and certain information on the cover of a file would be covered. However, on this analysis information recorded on documents arranged chronologically within a file would not. Whether or not this is the correct interpretation of the Directive it is hard to see how it makes practical sense.
5. Naturally many data users are anxious to have a clear understanding of the extent to which manual records will be covered in future. For that reason we thought it might be helpful if we put forward our provisional interpretation of the relevant provisions in the current Bill.
6. Clause 1(1) defines "data". Clauses 1(1)(a) and (b) cover information that is being, or is intended to be, automatically processed. Clause (1)(c) states that " 'data' means information which ... is recorded as part of a relevant filing system or with the intention that it should form a part of a relevant filing system".
7. The term "relevant filing system" is defined as "any set of information relating to individuals to the extent that, although the information is not processed by means of equipment operating automatically in response to instructions given for that purpose, the set is structured, either by reference to individuals or by reference to criteria relating to individuals, in such a way that specific information relating to a particular individual is readily accessible".
8. "'Specific' information is intended to mean ... distinct information within a file which can be distinguished from other information in the file and separately accessed. It means information of a distinct identity which sets it apart from the rest of the generality of personal information held.' It is the Government's intention that the definition should not capture a miscellaneous collection of information about an individual, where, even if the individual's name or other identifier is on the front of the file, specific data about that individual cannot be accessed without reading through those papers.