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Myths associated with data protection legislation abound. After the conviction of Ian Huntley, the chief constable of Humberside, David Westwood, claimed that the Data Protection Act 1998 had prevented the constabulary from retaining details of previous sex offence accusations. West-wood subsequently retracted this statement. British Gas recently claimed that the act prevented them from telling social services when they cut off the gas supply of two pensioners. This and similar statements prompted the Information Commissioner, Richard Thomas, to say that “it is ridiculous that organisations should hide behind data protection as a smoke screen for practices which no reasonable person would ever find acceptable”.

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