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									Royal College of Music
Data Protection Advice                                 Principles of Data Protection
                                                       The purpose of the EU directive on which the
                                                       Act is predicated is not so much the protection
Guidelines for dealing with p ersonal                  of data as protection of data subjects from
Information                                            harmful or unwanted misuse of their personal
                                                       information.
Release information only                               Anyone processing personal data must comply
                                                       with the eight enforceable principles of good
    • To the student or someone with the
                                                       practice. They say that data must be:
         student’s express permission to act on
         behalf of the student
                                                           fairly and lawfully processed;
                                             for
    • To a member of staff of the College fo r
                                                           processed for limited purposes;
         use in the proper performance of his/her
                                                           adequate, relevant and not excessive;
         duties
                                                           accurate;
    • Where disclosure is a legal requirement
                                                           not kept longer than necessary;
    • Where failure to disclose information                processed in accordance with the data
         would endanger the student or be                  subject's rights;
         against the students’ interests.                  secure;
                                                           not transferred to countries without
Take every precaution to check the credentials
                                                           adequate protection.
of everyone who telephones or calls requesting
information. Make sure you really do know to
                                                       Personal data covers both facts and opinions
whom you are speaking. Do not be bullied into
                                                       about the individual.
releasing information. Ask the purpose for which
the information will be used.
If in doubt, do not release the information.
                                                                                 1998:
                                                       The Data Protection Act 1998 : Who Is
                                                       Responsible Under The Act?
It can be very difficult to “hold the line” and        The College is registered as a Data Controller,
refuse to give out information. Make sure you          but everyone is responsible for ensuring that
understand the principles of the Act and stand         data is held and processed in accordance with
your ground. Consider a response such as “If you       the legislation. Staff can therefore be held
leave contact details with me (or leave                personally liable under the Act.
correspondence) I will pass them (it) on.”
                                                       What Is Personal Information?
If you would like to access the personal information
the College holds about you, you must complete a       All information whether stored electronically, or
Subject Access Request Form. The completed             in structured paper files, card indexes, notes of
form, together with the £10 fee, must be sent to       meetings, telephone notes etc. is covered by the
Kevin Porter, Deputy Director.                         terms of the Act. The Act requires that data is
                                                       held for good reason and not kept for longer
                                                       than necessary. Keeping records just in case of
    •    Students can get a form from the Registry
                                                       future need is not acceptable. Data held must
    •    Professors and administrative staff can get   only be processed in accordance with our
         a form from the Head of Human                 obligations under the Act.
         Resources
    •    Junior Department students can get a          Sensitive Information
         form from Peter Hewitt, Director, Junior      Some sensitive information is held centrally
         Department                                    under our statutory obligation to maintain
                                                       statistics. It should not be necessary to duplicate
                                                       information about disabilities, ethnicity etc. in
The RCM’s Data Protection Officer is                   personal files. Generally speaking, more stringent
Kevin Porter, Deputy Director                          conditions apply to this type of sensitive
x4329, kporter@rcm.ac.uk .                             information.
He can provide advice on the Act.
                                                            References which provide factual information are
Royal College of Music                                      difficult to challenge. Ensure the facts are correct and
                                                            state within what parameters the reference is given.
                                                            ‘If in doubt, leave it out’.
Writing references
                                                            When you are asked to express an opinion about a
                                                            person’s suitability, you should ensure that your
The Legal Position                                          comments can be defended and justified on reasonable
    •    The Data Protection Act 1998 applies to            grounds. This means that your comments are based on
         references.                                        an honest belief and are not malicious or perverse. You
    •    A reference can be the subject of legal            should try to demonstrate that you are qualified to
         action for negligence and/or for defamation.       give such opinions. Do not make statements which
    •    The referee has a duty of care both to the         you are not qualified to make. For example, ‘ I consider
         subject of the reference and to its recipient.     X to be well suited to the post for which he has applied
                                                            and am happy to support his application’ is better
Thus employees/students can sue employers/                  than ‘X will be a success in the post of……’.
teachers for damages for failure to exercise reasonable
care. Recent case law has established that, where           For this reason, you should take particular care if you
there is negligence, an employee does not have to           are asked to provide a reference for a student who is
prove actual loss of an appointment, but only that he       not known to you. Do not give an opinion which is
or she has lost a reasonable chance of employment           not your own just because the person who knew the
and thereby sustained loss. It must be remembered,          student is no long available to act as a referee. Try to
also, that your duty of care as a referee also applies to   quote someone who has knowledge of the candidate,
the person to whom you are providing the reference.         giving the source of the quote.
In other words you must not mislead a potential
employer by writing an inaccurate reference on              If you are asked to express an opinion on an issue
someone’s behalf.                                           about which you have limited knowledge, e.g. honesty
                                                            and integrity, you may have to say, for example, ‘I know
Duty to Provide a Reference?                                of nothing that would lead me to question X’s
Given the above, it might seem safer to opt out of          honesty’.
providing references. However, there is an implied
duty to provide a reference (as well as a moral             Avoid using ambiguous or ‘coded’ language, e.g. ‘X has
obligation) towards students and towards members            studied here for three years, during which time he has
of staff, whose careers they are in a position to           done his work entirely to his own satisfaction’.
influence.
                                                            Care should be taken to avoid acts of unlawful
If you are asked to give an unsolicited reference (for a    discrimination.
person who has not, to your knowledge, cited your
name as a referee), it is advisable to limit your           Mark all correspondence ‘Private and Confidential –
information to the facts. If you receive a request from     for the attention of addressee/committee/panel only’
a potential employer but are unable or unwilling to         and state that the reference is only given for the
give a reference, communicate your refusal carefully,       benefit of the addressee(s).
without, in effect, implying a negative reference.
                                                            Avoid telephone or verbal references; provide a written
                                                            reference if time allows. Steps should be taken to
Confidentiality
                                                            confirm the identity of the person requesting the
All references are given in confidence, but there may       reference.
be an obligation to disclose it if a copy is requested by
the subject of the reference. It is safest to write         Keep (and file) copies of any reference provided,
references on the assumption that the subject of the        written and verbal.
reference could see it at some stage.
                                                            The legislation is intended to ensure that fair and
Guidance on writing references                              accurate references are provided and that referees act
There are two principal aims of a reference:                responsibly.
    • to confirm facts
    • to provide opinions – as to the candidate’s           If you have any queries about the provision of
         suitability                                        references, please contact the Director of Academic &
                                                            Administrative Affairs, Kevin Porter.
The two should be clearly differentiated and you
should try not to confuse fact and opinion, e.g. ‘ on           This guidance is based on that provided through the
her performance to date, I would be surprised if X did          Lancaster University Data Protection Project
not get a first class degree’ is clearly an opinion; ‘she       2000/01 and a model by St Andrews University
will get a first class degree’ suggests that the issue is
beyond doubt.                                               KAP/19 December 2001, revised 12 February 2007

								
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