Information management: an introduction
Information is powerful and it can be sensitive – or dangerous. If information is lost, stolen or leaked, people may suffer.
Sharing information is also important and can bring many benefits. Sharing information can make public services better and more efficient. Sharing information can protect vulnerable people and stop unscrupulous organisations from taking advantage of them. It can also help law enforcement agencies fight crime.
Given the importance of information and the potential harm caused by stray information, it’s clear that information management is important for many organisations. As an employee, you may be responsible for managing information.
Laws about information
The law has to balance the need to protect us from people using information unfairly and the need to make information available to people who need to use it.
The 1998 Data Protection Act and the 2000 Freedom of Information Act are the main laws covering information. Under those acts there are heavy penalties for organisations that manage sensitive information badly.
Organisations work hard to ensure that the information they hold is accurate and managed properly. UNISON is no different and we take great care to protect our members’ confidential information.
Workers who manage information
Many jobs involve managing information. Strict rules and processes cover the way information is managed and people with access to information are usually given training about these rules.
Training helps people understand what’s expected of them but also makes it easier for employers to punish them – or even prosecute them – when things go wrong.
How can UNISON help?
There are three ways we protect UNISON members when information management goes wrong:
- working with organisations to ensure that their rules governing information management are fair and well understood;
- preventing problems by helping our members understand the rules;
- supporting UNISON members who fall foul of the rules and find themselves in trouble.
If your job involves managing information that you think might be sensitive and you are not sure about the rules, contact your UNISON rep for advice on how to protect yourself.
Next steps for reps
Set a good example – make sure the information you hold about members complies with the data protection rules.
Advise members on the importance of understanding the rules of information management.
- There are strict rules governing information management at work.
- Computers help us share lots of information quickly, so it’s important that we all understand our information management responsibilities.
- The Data Protection and Freedom of Information Acts protect your sensitive information while allowing you to see the information you have a right to see.
- Employers take great care to protect the information they hold and can punish people who don’t manage information properly.
I’m worried that I don’t understand the laws around managing information. Where can I learn more?
The clearest summary is probably on the Information Commissioner’s Office website.
My employer says I broke the rules on information management, what should I do?
Speak to your UNISON rep as soon as possible.
How do I know if the Data Protection Act applies to my work?
Unless you are a private individual holding information just for your own use – like an address book – the Act will apply.