If You Think Data Won’t Be Abused…

This little story tends to demonstrate precisely why many of us are unhappy about data retention by various agencies. While our ire is usually directed primarily at the government; as this tale demonstrates, commerce is not above a little data abuse when the opportunity arises:

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) said the Consulting Association, in Droitwich, had committed a “serious breach” of the Data Protection Act.

The ICO said a secret system had been run for over 15 years to enable firms to unlawfully vet job applicants.

Unions have called on the government to outlaw “blacklisting” practices.

Around 40 construction companies who subscribed to the scheme would send lists of potential employees to The Consulting Association, who would then warn them about potential troublemakers.

Blacklisting is nothing new, but the means to gather the information and sell it on has been made much simpler with the coming of the digital age. The prosecution and closing down of this operation is quite right and proper. As pointed out, the information was being kept secret from those people listed on the database and they had no recourse to challenge or correct the information.

Some of the notes uncovered by an ICO’s raid on the association’s offices included descriptions such as “ex-shop steward, definite problems”, “Irish ex-Army, bad egg”.

Other notes related to workers who had raised concerns over health and safety issues on sites, such as asbestos removal.

Therein lies the heart of the matter – such information is based on gossip, rumour and as such, is highly subjective. Now, if anyone thinks that government databases will be any better, they are deluding themselves. These people were blatantly breaching the law and will be prosecuted. The problem with governments and their abuses of such information is that they make the law…

Ho hum.


  1. That assumes the people being searched have such a web presence. I don’t have Facebook, LinkedIn or MySpace. I do have this, so that’s me done for…

  2. Why not just phone up their previous employers and listen very carefully to the no-doubt-carefully-hedged answers you get?

    No reference or no reply or “their boss is no longer with the company” = no job.

    How hard is that?

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