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Data protection legislation in the United Kingdom: from development to statute 1969-84

journal contribution
posted on 04.10.2012, 13:39 by Adam WarrenAdam Warren, James A. Dearnley
This paper is primarily concerned with development of data protection legislation in the United Kingdom from the late 1960s through to the enactment of the 1984 Data Protection Act. Following a series of private members’ bills calling for varying degrees of privacy legislation, the UK government commissioned two significant reports in the 1970s. The first, the Younger Report on Privacy (1972), established 10 principles for the handling of personal data that were to influence data protection statutes in Europe. The Lindop Report on Data Protection (1978) examined public- and private-sector computer systems, recommending a flexible legislative environment – with a set of broad principles guiding a data protection authority in its development of codes of practice aimed at various sectors of the economy. The far-reaching nature of those recommendations can now be appreciated in the work of the modern Information Commissioner’s Office, 25 years after the publication of the Lindop Report. However, the momentum created by the two studies faded during the period 1979–82. Labour and Conservative governments respectively consulted further and objected to additional bureaucracy involved in creating a data protection authority. During this period of entropy, unpublished memoranda and correspondence demonstrated how former members of the Lindop Committee maintained the pressure on government, ensuring that their work was not forgotten. Eventually, overseas legislation and the need for the UK to maintain its position at the ‘crossroads of the information highway’ ensured that the UK, albeit grudgingly, enacted a Data Protection Act in 1984. By that time, the UK had lost the lead in defining data protection law and policy established by the Reports of Younger and Lindop. In highlighting findings from the Committees and efforts by dedicated individuals in lobbying successive governments in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the authors demonstrate the importance of preserving historical memory.



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  • Information Science


WARREN, A.P. and DEARNLEY, J., 2005. Data protection legislation in the United Kingdom: from development to statute 1969-84. Information Communication and Society, 8 (2), pp. 238 - 263.


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