UK: Data Protection - End of the Exemption on Manual Records

Last Updated: 6 November 2001
Article by Ben Thornber

The Data Protection Act 1998 (the Act) has been generally in force since March 2000. Many organisations will therefore be familiar with their obligations to comply with the data protection principles. But until now the Act has not applied to certain types of data or data processing. This exemption ended on 24 October this year.

This article discusses the types data and data processing that are no longer exempt from the Act and explains the impact this may have on organisations.

Previous Exemption

Under transitional provisions, certain types of data were exempt from the scope of the Act until October this year. The most important aspect exemption applied to manual records. For most businesses, this probably had most relevance to the information held on personnel files. This data will now need to be checked to see if it complies with the Act.

The exemption had been significant because it is often more difficult for businesses to comply with the principles under the Act if the data is contained in manual, as opposed to, electronic records. For instance, it is generally less cumbersome and time consuming to respond to requests for access to personal data held about an individual where the data is held electronically rather than on manual records.

So what exactly will no longer be exempt from the Act?

  • manual records containing personal data, which are
  • part of a relevant filing system, that was
  • subject to processing already under way as at 24 October 1998.

A "relevant filing system" is any filing system which is structured in such a way that information about a certain individual is readily accessible.

Extended Exemption

A more restricted exemption regime is still in place until 2007. This is relevant where the data was held before 24 October 1998. But for the extended exemption to apply, the processing of the relevant filing system must also have started before October 1998. Also, the 6th, 7th and 8th data protection principles will apply to this type of data in any event. These are discussed below.

Other Automated Data Previously Exempt

The general exemption to 24 October 2001 also applied to types of automated data and not just to manual data. These were:

  • automated data processed to calculate salary or pensions or to keep accounts of sales and other transactions;
  • automated data processed only to replace other data which may be lost or destroyed (i.e. back up data); and
  • automated data processed to compile and distribute mailing lists.

Most organisations will almost certainly have data in the first and second of these categories. They will now need to ensure that they comply with the Act when processing this data.

Data Protection Principles

The biggest impact of the end of the exemption is likely to be found in principles 4,5,6 and 7. These require as follows:

Personal data should be accurate and, where necessary, kept up to date (Principle 4).

Personal data must not be kept for longer than is necessary (Principle 5).

Data should be processed in line with the rights of individuals under the Act (Principle 6).

Personal information must be secure. Organisations must take measures to ensure the only processing of this data is authorised and lawful and that there is no accidental loss or destruction of this data (Principle 7).

One of the main concerns about manual records is ensuring they are accurate and up to date (principle 4) and are kept for no longer than is necessary (principle 5). Procedures need to be put in place to update manual records and to cull unnecessary information.

The security of manual data held, which is enshrined in principle 7, may also be of concern. Large businesses may find it difficult to keep on top of what personal data they hold. Indeed, all sorts of individuals within a business may keep filing systems of manual records containing personal data, especially where they operate from several sites within the organisation. There needs to be an assessment of whether access to these records is properly controlled.


Imagine a business has personnel records for an employee who has been with it for, say, 5 years. Under the ending of the exemption, all the data protection principles will apply to any data on those records from October 1998 onwards. However, under the more limited exemption that continues to October 2007, any personal details for the period before October 1998 will not be subject to all the provisions of the Act. Even then, some principles will apply to this pre-1998 data. In particular, the employee will be able to access the information, which is the right given in the all-important 6th data protection principle.

Another impact is that, not only will current employees have a legal right to see the content of their personal records, but so will past employees and even prospective employees that organisations decide not to employ. So, for example, prospective employees who were not offered a job would have the right to see documents such as scoresheets and psychometric tests if these were used during an interview process. And clients and customers have similar rights as well.

There are also issues concerning the ending of the exemption for certain automated data. Many businesses may outsource some personal data processing, for instance, by engaging a third party to perform the payroll function or to undertake direct marketing using mailing lists. These arrangements will be lawful from 24 October only if they are in some form of writing and contain appropriate data protection clauses guaranteeing the security and integrity of the relevant personal data.


By now most organisations will be familiar with data protection issues. But the ending of the exemption for manual records poses particular problems, mainly because of the difficulty in finding out what and how any relevant personal data is stored.

Forward planning is the key. For example, organisations need to identify the points where they collect personal data. They should also tell the "data subjects" of all uses and disclosures of their data when it is collected. It may also be possible to put manual records onto electronic databases, although this is likely to take time and manpower.

Data protection is a matter of risk analysis and assessment. It can be virtually impossible for any organisation to achieve full an ongoing compliance with the Act. The trick is to develop a strategy that takes you into being substantially risk free. And time to act is now.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

In association with
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Check to state you have read and
agree to our Terms and Conditions

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

Use of

You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.


Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.


Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here .

If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq by clicking here .

Information Collection and Use

We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

Mondaq News Alerts

In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.


A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

Log Files

We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

Surveys & Contests

From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.


If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.


This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to

Notification of Changes

If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

How to contact Mondaq

You can contact us with comments or queries at

If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.