Page last updated at 12:31 GMT, Friday, 30 January 2009

Firms back data protection pledge

USB drive, PA
Many firms and government bodies have admitted to losing personal data

Firms are being encouraged to back a pledge to safeguard the data they hold about citizens and customers.

Drafted by the Information Commissioner, the Personal Information Promise tries to improve respect for the data companies have gathered.

Firms and organisations who use data that people surrender do not always take enough care with it, said Richard Thomas, Information Commissioner.

"Protecting people's personal details should not be left to chance," he said.

"Organisations are waking up to the fact that privacy is now so significant that lapses risk reputations and bottom lines."

Safe store

2008 saw a series of data breaches and losses that left the personal details of millions of people at risk from ID thieves.

By signing up to the promise firms say they will go beyond the strictures laid down by law which govern what they can do with the personal data they hold on their customers or clients.

Data protection laws say organisations should hold the minimum possible amount of data about people and ensure that what they do hold is accurate and up to date.

"They have to make sure that safeguarding the personal information of the customers and staff is embedded in their organisational culture," said Mr Thomas in a statement.

Those backing the promise will be exhorted to consider privacy risks when they start work on new information systems that draw on databases of personal data.

They must also put in place safeguards to ensure data is securely stored and does not fall into the hands of ID thieves.

"It would be really good to see signatories agree to having spot checks made by the ICO," said Jim Killock, executive director of the Open Rights Group. "That's what happens other European countries, where their data protection watchdogs have real teeth.

"Given recent government data leaks, it would give us all a lot more confidence if the ICO could walk in and check that our personal information is being kept safely," he said.

On the day the promise was launched 20 organisations pledged to back it. Those signing up included BT, Vodafone, Royal Mail, British Gas, Experian, Equifax, AstraZeneca and T-Mobile.

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