Specifying the Purpose
"the data shall have been obtained only for one or more specified explicit and legitimate purposes"
- section 2(1)(c)(i) of the Act
You may not keep information about people unless it is held for a specific, lawful and clearly stated purpose. It is therefore unlawful to collect information about people routinely and indiscriminately, without having a sound, clear and legitimate purpose for so doing.
Data controllers who are required to register with the Data Protection Commissioner include in their register entry a statement of their purpose for holding personal data. If such data controllers keep or use personal data for any purpose other than the specified purpose, they may be guilty of an offence.
Having A Specified Purpose: Test Yourself
You should be able to answer YES to the following questions:-
- Do you specify the purpose for which you are collecting and keeping personal information?
- Is that purpose lawful?
- Can you make a precise statement of that purpose?
- Has the purpose been made known to those for whom, and about whom, you keep personal data?
- Have you made out a list of the different sets of data which you keep and the specific purpose of each?
Practical steps Prepare a statement of the purpose or purposes for which you hold information about others. Any individual has the right to ask you to state the purposes for which you keep such information. If you have not already done so, you should also prepare the list referred to in the final question.
Some Case Studies relevant to this topic:
The following Case Studies, which have appeared in Annual reports of the Data Protection Commissioner over recent years, may be of some interest. Click on the Case Study details to see the full text.
CASE STUDY 5/04 - Political party - use of party political database in sending out an appeal for funds for a charity.
CASE STUDY 5/01 - MBNA Bank - unwanted direct marketing - mailings and telemarketing - failure to delete details from direct marketing databases - Eircom - the practice of 'teleappending' - fair processing - incompatiblepurpose
CASE STUDY 2/00 - Department of Education and Science - use of trade union membership subscription data to withhold pay - fair obtaining and processing - specified purpose - compatible use - purpose as described in register entry
CASE STUDY 8/99 — telecommunications company - electronic publication of telephone directory on the Internet and CD-ROM - advanced and novel search capabilities - whether compatible with purpose for which data were obtained
CASE STUDY 1/97 — hospital patient’s data disclosed for research – data not obtained fairly for this purpose
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