Access to data is controlled by the Data Protection Act 2008.
Your personal data
These are data that are focussed entirely or mainly on you. Data that are focussed entirely on you should be released to you without question. Data that are focussed mainly on you will contain information about someone else. For example, a housefather’s report on you will contain information about him and perhaps about your siblings, parents and the other children you played with. The information about someone else is known as third party data.
Third party data should be removed before your personal data are released to you. If third party data cannot be removed then your personal data may be withheld. However, it may be permissible to release your personal data even when third party data cannot be removed. A decision whether to release or to withhold your data under these circumstances is up to the particular agency. This level of discretion can cause problems.
Your personal data cannot be withheld when the third party is a ‘relevant person’. A relevant person is a social worker, a foster parent, a house parent, or any other third party who was paid to care for you. Hence what these people said about you during your time in care cannot be withheld on ‘third party grounds’. Exempting these and other paid public officials from the third party definition has introduced greater accountability into the system.
Third party personal data
Data that are entirely or mainly focussed on someone else cannot be released to you unless the other person agrees. Frequently, data that are focussed mainly on someone else may contain information about you. You are not permitted to see this information about you.
Jointly-focussed personal data
Information about a mother and her newly born baby, because of the closeness of the relationship, will often be impossible to separate out. The information is likely to be focussed equally between the two parties. The same may apply to a psychiatric report prepared jointly on a parent and child. It is likely that neither party will have a right to access data that are jointly focussed..
Important information about your childhood may be withheld from you because
- it contains someone else’s data;
- it is in someone else’s personal data; or
- it is jointly-focussed.