Sunday 20 April 2003

The Data Protection Registrar: don't be misled

My wife runs a hypnotherapy and life-coaching business. Last week she received an official-looking document from the "Data Protection Enforcement Agency" headed "Notification under the Data Protection Act 1998". She was asked to fill in two forms and send a cheque for £95 to cover "your notification fee and documentation for development of your codes of practice".

I have had to deal with the Data Protection Registrar in the past although the sum of £95 seemed way above what I could recall paying on behalf of other businesses. The forms didn't seem quite familiar either. I also thought that my wife's business was not required to register, but maybe the law had changed. I decided to phone the DPR for further information. Then I read in the Sunday Times Business Section an article about "data protection rip-off cowboys". The whole thing was a con. Have a look at the website of the Data Protection Registrar. The DPR fee is £35 and my wife doesn't need to register anyway. It looks as though these people write to businesses in the Yellow Pages who aren't registered with the DPR and hope to collect £95. This probably explains why so many of these organisations are based near the DPR's headquarters in Cheshire.

From a libertarian perspective, what lessons should we draw? The mailshot is cleverly written and probably these outfits do arrange registration for their "clients", keeping the extra £60 as a handling fee. There is no actual claim to be the Data Protection Registrar. I should have thought that these companies are at least guilty of misrepresentation. The DPR is taking action:

The Commissioner is keen to make clear that there is no connection between this Office and these businesses. He has been disturbed that a number of people have been confused and troubled by the wording and tone of some of the correspondence issued by these businesses. His Office is cooperating with other relevant authorities, who are exploring what action might be taken.
Of course, the government doesn't need to "explore what action might be taken" when it wants to enforce political correctness or take away the right of self-defence. Protecting businesspeople doesn't seem quite so important. At least in a libertarian society we could organise one hell of a boycott against these rip-off outfits and anyone who did business with them.