A forum for dispute? The Data Protection Act can apply to corporate social networking

The Data Protection Act (DPA) contains an exemption for personal data that is processed by an individual for the purposes of his or her personal affairs. This is often referred to as the ‘domestic purposes’ exemption. It will apply whenever an individual is using an online forum purely for personal purposes. However, it does not cover organisational use of online forums and social media — they are therefore subject to the DPA in the normal way.

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has issued guidance on this, explaining that when personal data is put on a business social networking site, message board or blog, the organisation takes on responsibilities as a ‘data controller’ under the DPA. As mentioned in relation to the Gayle case, the ICO’s guidance has no legal effect and it is open to organisations to show compliance with the DPA in other ways. However, it is self-evident that documented compliance with the guidance will help in the event of a complaint…

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