Data Protection: New BSI Standard and Survey

June 1, 2009

Almost one in five businesses has unwittingly breached the Data Protection Act at least once according to a survey conducted by the BSI. Of these, nearly half said they had breached the Act on several occasions and an additional 18% said they were not sure whether they had or not. A ‘breach’ could refer to the illegal transfer of information to a third party, failure to hold information securely or neglect of other legal obligations. 


The survey provides a snapshot of how UK businesses manage the personal information they hold on staff and customers, including sensitive data such as racial or ethnic origin, trade union membership and criminal proceedings. It was carried out to mark the publication of a new British Standard on data protection which aims to help organisations put in place a framework for maintaining and improving compliance with data protection legislation and good practice.


Survey Results

The survey was conducted amongst what is described as a nationally representative sample of 516 senior decision makers in SMEs. The survey also found that:

  • 65% of businesses provide no data protection training for their staff
  • nearly half of those surveyed admit that there is no one in their business with specific responsibility for data protection
  • 15% of businesses are not confident that their data sharing practices conform to the DPA and, worryingly, almost 5% of these frequently share data regardless
  • 18% of businesses said that data protection is less of a priority in the current economic climate.


Mike Low, Director, Standards, BSI, said: ‘The five million small and medium sized businesses in the UK form the backbone of the British economy. These organisations are handling vast amounts of personal information on a daily basis and while it is encouraging that some already have appropriate data protection measures in place this survey shows that there is still a long way to go. A third of businesses we surveyed stated that the complexity of the legislation restricts their compliance with the DPA. BS 10012 is a new standard, published by BSI today, which addresses this and many other issues, providing organisations with a framework for maintaining and improving compliance.’


Gordon Wanless, Chairman of the Data Protection Forum, said:  ‘The BSI survey backs up what we have known for some time – that many organisations find the legislation in this area complex. The standard can help organisations put in place the measures which will lead to compliance and demonstrate that they are handling personal information responsibly’.


New BSI Standard

The new British Standard, BS10012, Data protection – Specification for a personal information management system has been developed to establish best practice and aid compliance with data protection legislation.  It is the first standard for the management of personal information.


Rather than prescribing exactly how operations should be run, BS 10012 provides the framework which will enable effective management of personal information.  It can be used by organisations of any size and sector to create a tailored management system which includes procedures in areas such as training and awareness, risk assessment, data sharing, retention and disposal of data and disclosure to third parties. 


BS 10012, was developed by a panel of experts including representatives from industry, government, academia and consumer groups. A three-month public comment period produced a high number of comments all of which were considered by the panel before preparation of the final version of the standard.

For the BSI, visit

For the Data Protection Forum, visit