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Monday, 22 December 2003


The BBC reports on the sad case of an elderly couple who died after their gas was cut off, leaving them with no central heating. The couple had fallen into arrears on their bill and owed British Gas £140.62. British Gas claims that it could not alert the social services to their plight because, under the Data Protection Act, it is not allowed to reveal details to peoples’ debts to third parties without the permission of the debtors. The coroner in the case, Dr Paul Knapman, has said that he will write to the Information Commission, informing him of the circumstances of the couple’s death and inviting him to take such action as he feels fit. British Gas has called for a review of the law and Help the Aged has expressed concern about the current system.

The IPKat, while acknowledging the importance of privacy, is unhappy about the prospect of the requirements of the Data Protection Act preventing bodies from communicating potentially life-saving information to other interested bodies. He wonders if an exception where there is a risk to the life or well-being of the data subject or third parties can be incorporated into the act. He notes the similar ongoing controversy concerning the failure of the police force to disclose details of the previous allegations against the convicted child murderer Ian Huntley on Data Protection Act grounds (BBC report here).

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