HANDLING SENSITIVE DATA DURING COVID-19

Have you offered to help vulnerable people in your community? Have you set up any groups giving help and support during these difficult times? If so, you’re not alone as the country has been rallying round to help those most in need.

Ian Hulme, Director for Regulatory Assurance at the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), has issued some tips on handling sensitive data during this time.

At the same time, the (ICO) has also created a useful information hub for organisations and individuals with guidance on how to tackle data protection issues during the current COVID-19 crisis.

The hub will help individuals and organisations navigate data protection during this unprecedented time.  They will be adding new and relevant information as the pandemic continues. 

There has been an outpouring of offers of help from all sections of the community to help those most in need and the vulnerable in our communities.

This has led to Church groups, neighbourhood and residents associations being set up to support the work of existing community groups, services and charities.

With the formation of these groups comes the increased likelihood of having to handle sensitive data. This may be the first time people have had to think about how to deal with data protection laws – in place to help you handle people’s information responsibly.

What you should do

Be clear, open and honest with people about what you are doing with their personal information. Tell them why you need it, what you’ll do with it and who you’re going to share it with.

Mr Hulme said that if people were not sure whether they should be handling personal data, then they should think about whether it falls into one of the following categories:

  • Would the person expect me to use their information in this way (legitimate interests)?
  • Have they given me their clear and unambiguous consent to use their personal information (consent)?
  • Is the person’s health or safety at risk if I don’t use their personal data (vital interests)?
  • If the answer is yes to any of these questions, then you can handle and share personal data.

He said: “You should also take particular care if you’re handling sensitive data, referred to as ‘special category data’ in data protection law. This is private information like your health records, sexuality, race, ethnicity and religion. If you are going to use this kind of information, you should ask further questions:

  • Do I need this information to protect a person at risk (safeguarding individuals)?
  • Have they given me their explicit consent to use their private information (consent)?
  • Would this information save someone’s life (vital interests)?

“If the answers is yes to any of these questions, then you can also handle and share this type of information. Make sure you are doing only what is necessary and appropriate for the task at hand.”

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