Court Of Appeal Confirms A Person's Name Constitutes Personal Data

A judgment from the Court of Appeal on 7 February 2014 in the case of Edem v The information Commissioner & Financial Services Authority [2014] EWCA Civ 92, has held that "a name is personal data unless it is so common that without further information, such as its use in a work context, a person would remain unidentifiable despite its disclosure" (see paragraph 20 of judgment).

The definition of 'personal data' within the meaning of the Data Protection Act 1998 ('DPA') is often debated. Section 1(1) of the DPA defines 'personal data' as "Data which relates to a living individual who can be identified from those data, or from those data and other data which is in the possession of or is likely to come into the possession of the data controller and includes any expression of opinion about the individual and any indication of the intentions of the data controller or any other person in respect of the individual."

The Court of Appeal previously interpreted the application of this definition in the case of Durant v Financial Services Act [2003] EWCA Civ 1746 [2011] 1 Info LR 1 (Durant). Paragraph 28 of Auld LJ's judgment provided two notions to be used to determine if information is personal data. The first was whether the information is biographical in a significant sense, the second was if the information has the data subject at its focus and whether disclosure of such information would affect that data subject's fundamental right to privacy derived from the European Data Protection Directive 95/46/EC.

The most recent case before the Court of Appeal has now elaborated further on this interpretation, specifically examining whether an individual's name is automatically deemed personal data. Mose LJ, Beaton LJ and Underhill LJ questioned whether a person's name is automatically considered personal data simply because it identifies and relates to that individual, or whether it is necessary for that information to arise in some form of context which reveals more information about an individual beyond merely his or her name.

The facts of the case are very similar to Durant, involving an application by Mr Edem under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 ('FOIA') for the disclosure of information relating to complaints he had made to the Financial Services Authority ('FSA') regarding its regulation of a company. Specifically, Mr Edem sought information about the complaints and the names of the three individuals within the FSA who handled these...

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