4. Publishing Applicant and Objector Details
4.1 Publishing Personal Data on the Internet
Planning Authorities should take extreme care when publishing personal information on their websites and avoid publishing personal data such as telephone numbers, email addresses and signatures. A letter from the ICO to all Scottish Local Authorities in October 2007 stated:
telephone numbers, e-mail addresses and signatures should not be made public. Attention should also be paid to the removal of sensitive personal information ( e.g. relating to criminal history or state of health) where such information is provided as part of the application process. 7
Where the publication of personal data is involved e.g. signatures, planning authorities must comply with the eight data protection principles laid down in the Data Protection Act 1998. In doing so, planning authorities are committed to respecting the public's right to privacy and to protecting personal information. These require that information must be:
- Processed fairly and lawfully
- Obtained and used only for limited lawful purposes
- Adequate, relevant and not excessive
- Accurate and kept up to date
- Kept for no longer than necessary for the purposes for which it was collected
- Processed in line with the rights of data subjects under the Data Protection Act 1998.
- Kept secure by technical and management measures
- Not transferred to countries outside the European Economic Area without adequate protection
Whilst current application forms are in use, it is recognised that applicants details may be available publicly on the web whilst the application is viewable through weekly list and planning authorities online planning information systems.
As good practice and for compliance with the Data Protection Act, the online application and appeals system will make planning applicants and appellants aware that the information they submit through the system, plus any accompanying maps, drawings and documentation may be published on the web.
Planning Authorities must ensure that any information received through the online application and appeals system is redacted accordingly before publishing to the web. Where planning authorities receive paper forms and associated documents, they should ensure that this information is also redacted before scanning and making available on the web. Precautions should also be taken before making such documents available through other means.
All representations to planning applications should be acknowledged and those submitting them advised that their comments will be open to public view. When making representations available online Planning Authorities must ensure peoples' identities are protected. They should be aware that they could be held legally responsible for the content of their website and should also have procedures in place to ensure the removal of any obscene, illegal or defamatory comments. Planning authorities also need to ensure that they accord with their council's policy on disclosure of information.
With regards to applications, appeals and representations, planning authorities should seek to avoid any harmful consequences that might arise as a result of publishing information online. As a minimum, planning authorities should seek to ensure that the following is removed:
- signatures (internal and external),
- email addresses,
- phone numbers..
Any personal information collected in order to comply with the diversity monitoring requirements of the Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000 should not be published. The information should only be made available to the public in summary and in an anonymous way.
When planning authorities are publishing information online, they should ensure that only those documents relevant to the public interest are shown at a given point in time. Where personal information is involved, this will help ensure that the planning authority is complying with the fifth data protection principle i.e. keeping the information for no longer than necessary for the purposes for which it was collected. This does not affect any individual's right to access all the documents on the Statutory Register as this can still be access at the Planning Authority office, if necessary.
Privacy Statement/ Fair Processing Notice
In fulfilling their responsibilities under the Data Protection Act, planning authorities should publish a privacy statement (or fair processing notice) on their website which should be accessible from the home page and other relevant pages of the website.
An example of a privacy statement can be found at: http://www.planningportal.gov.uk/england/professionals/en/1097521227444.html
ICO is currently working on guidance on fair processing notices which will be published later this year and which will be available on the ICO website.
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