The United Kingdom Data Protection (Processing of Sensitive Personal Data) Order 2006
The UK Data Protection (Processing of Sensitive Personal Data) Order 2006 sneaked onto the United Kingdom statute books without any great fanfare on 25 July 2006. It allows the Police to pass details of cautions and convictions relating to certain offences of viewing child pornography over the internet, to banks and card providers, so that they can cancel the credit/debit/charge cards that were used in purchasing such images.
Until now, the banks would not have been able to find out that someone had used their card to commit an offence, as the Data Protection Act protects sensitive personal data (including cautions and convictions) from disclosure unless certain conditions are met. However, the Government can make an order allowing disclosure of such data in certain circumstances, which is what they have done here.
The Government stated that the Order was needed because although card issuers ordinarily have the power, based on their contracts with customers, to remove any payment card and close an account that has been used to make an illegal purchase, they have found it difficult to exercise that right without details of convictions and cautions. Some card issuers were unsure whether they could process details about convictions and cautions and close accounts. APACS approached the Government about having a secure route to free all card issuers of these doubts, hence the passing of this Order.
It is part of the Government's aim to approach holistically the growing problem of child abuse. Making it easier to remove payment cards and close accounts that have been used to buy indecent images of children are only small steps in tackling paedophile behaviour and protecting children, but the Government thinks that any steps that disrupt this activity and reduce re?offending can only make a positive difference.
The Information Commissioner is understood to have concerns about the extent of the Order, however. It enables information about criminal convictions or cautions to be processed for the purpose of administering an account relating to the payment card used in the commission of the offence, as well as for cancelling that payment card. The IC was concerned that the phrase administering an account was too wide and unclear. It remains to be seen how it will be interpreted in practice.
There were around 1,300 convictions and cautions for the offences of purchasing indecent images of children in 2004 so we will have to wait and see how effective the threat of having a payment card removed or an account closed will be in deterring people from committing such offences in future.
If it is successful, then perhaps the Government will consider extending the Order to include other types of criminal offence where illegal goods or
services are purchased on a card over the internet.
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