Personal Information – What is it and Who can use it?

Personal information, whether such as name, address or telephone number or details about what we buy at the supermarket, is information that many public and private organisations hold about us.

Personal Information

At all times it is important that you protect this personal information and are careful about with whom you share it.

The information can be used by organisations to positively help us in our daily lives.

It can though be a source of major issues. For example if it is wrong or not up to date it could mean you are wrongly refused a job or a loan or perhaps if you are renting a property you could fail credit checks.

If the information is not held securely it could result in you being a victim of identity theft.

Under the Data Protection Act you are entitled to check exactly what personal information organistions hold about you. Such organisations must keep this information secure, accurate and up to date and use it fairly.

To check the information held you need to make a ‘subject access request’ to the organisation. It is best to send this request by letter or email and keep a copy. There may be a small charge for providing it and it should be provided within 40 days of making the request.

If information held is incorrect then it must be corrected. If you feel that an organisation is wrongly handling your information and they are in breach of the Data Protection Act then you can complain to the Information Commissioners Office.

Using personal information, organisations can undertake direct marketing to you, via such as post, email, phone calls, text messages and faxes. However, through the Data Protection Act, in conjunction with the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations, you have the right to stop direct marketing activity.

When filling in forms for an organisation, somewhere on the form there will be a statement about how they intend to use any personal information you have provided. You will have the option to ‘opt in’ or ‘opt out’ of receiving marketing material from the organisation and having your details passed on to third parties. Be careful to read the words very carefully and make sure you tick or leave blank to get your desired position.

To reduce the number of sales calls you can register with the Telephone Preference Service (TPS). Equally to reduce junk mail you can register with the Mailing Preference Service (MPS).

Electronic marketing, via email or text, is a little more tricky to stop. A lot of it falls into the ‘spam’ category, email that you don’t want and didn’t ask for. As much originates from outside the UK, the best option is to take steps to reduce spam yourself e.g. don’t respond to spam as it tells the sender that your email address is in use and encourages them to use it again or even sell the address on to others.

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