Four in 10 organisations obstruct access to our own data.
The most reliable and efficient way of locating data controllers turned out to be online. In nearly two thirds (63%) of all cases, on-line searching provided the relevant contact details, and this was achieved in less than five minutes over half (61%) of the time. Attempts to locate data controllers using alternative methods generally did not fare well. In the majority of cases, when contacting organisations by telephone, members of staff lacked knowledge concerning subject access requests. As a result, answers were often incorrect, confusing and contradictory.
When it was possible to locate the data controller via telephone, this took more than six minutes, sometimes on premium rate lines, in over half (54%) of all cases. Even then, the information provided via telephone was rated as ‘good’ in only 34% of cases.
In the case of CCTV data, where researchers attended sites in person, nearly one in five sites (18%) did not display any CCTV signage. Where signage was present, in more than four in ten cases (43%) it was rated as ‘poor’ in terms of visibility and content. Only one third (32.5%) of CCTV signage named the CCTV system operator or data controller.
By failing to display appropriate signage at CCTV sites, one fifth of organisations effectively employed illegal practices. Staff approached in person were said to lack expertise and frequently reacted to queries with suspicion and skepticism, questioning why one would wish to access their personal data. Thus, researchers merely trying to find the contact details of the data controller were forced to justify why they sought to exercise their democratic rights, and even then they were frequently denied.
When it was possible to locate the data controller, the process of submitting an access request was often problematic with data controllers employing a range of discourses of denial which restrict or completely deny data subjects the ability to exercise their informational rights.
Norris said: "In our view, there is an urgent requirement for policymakers to address the failure of law at the European level and its implementation into national law. Organisations must ensure that they conform to the law. In particular, organisations need to make it clear who is responsible for dealing with requests from citizens; they need to train their staff so they are aware of their responsibilities under law; and they need to implement clear and unambiguous procedures to facilitate citizens making access requests. Finally national data protection authorities must have the legal means and organisational resources to both encourage and police compliance."
The study forms part of the IRISS (Increasing Resilience in Surveillance Societies) project, funded by the European Union.