Training charity falls foul of data protection laws

Information Commissioner Office's tells complainant it is 'unlikely' that Common Purpose has complied with Data Protection Act

Leadership training charity Common Purpose has been told by the Information Commissioner's Office that it has probably broken data protection law.

Information commissioner Christopher Graham received five complaints about Common Purpose earlier this year. The charity had compiled a database of requests for information about Common Purpose made to public authorities under the Freedom of Information Act. The database contained personal details of the complainants (20 January, page 4).

The charity sent the database to public authorities receiving new freedom of information requests about Common Purpose. At the time, the charity said it had done this to show how many such requests were being made and to help the authorities decide whether they were vexatious (6 August 2008, page 3).

The ICO has now written to one of the complainants, Michael White, saying it thinks it is unlikely that Common Purpose has complied with the Data Protection Act. The letter says no one would reasonably expect "information which was provided to one local authority in order to deal with a specific request to be passed on to multiple other public authorities".

The letter says Common Purpose will be given 28 days to submit any information that suggests this assessment should be changed. A spokeswoman for Common Purpose said the charity would respond within the time limit.

"Common Purpose has worked closely with the ICO in the past year to get advice on FOI requests that reference our organisation," she said. "The ICO has been very helpful."

White told Third Sector his name and address appeared on the database. He said he was not part of any campaign against Common Purpose and was interested only in establishing its relationships with government, the police and the NHS.

"Most of its turnover is derived from the taxpayer via these organisations," he said. "I have also sought information about other leadership training firms and recruitment consultants that deal with public bodies."

A spokeswoman for the ICO said: "We are currently establishing the full facts and will be able to provide further information once the case is resolved."

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