Data Protection Vs Data Accessibility

A father from Coventry was told by Apple that he would need to obtain a court order, if wanted them to allow accessibility to his dead son’s computer, thus retrieving any personal data in the computer. Initially, that would seem to be just common sense – allowing a father access to his dead son’s photos and memories. How very desperate for a grieving father trying to access a Macbook, thus holding on to the memory of his son who was stabbed and murdered by 3 men serving time for an unprovoked, gruesome act. But what an incredibly difficult dilemma to have to deal with: to break or not to break data protection rules and how to do it? The law says that Data Protection Act controls how your personal information is used by organizations, businesses or the government. Everyone responsible for using data has to follow strict rules called ‘data protection principles’.

data security

data security

But the law also says that data can be used for limited, specifically stated purposes, kept for no longer than is absolutely necessary, handled according to people’s data protection rights. However, what does the law say about someone like the late Morgan Hehir’s personal data being accessed by his father Colin? How would you determine who should be allowed access to a dead person’s personal data? According to Apple, it was inappropriate to allow Colin Hehir access to his dead son’s computer with all his personal data, even after providing them with death and probate certificates, and insisted on a court order before allowing him access to his son’s Macbook.

How frustrating to know that Morgan Hehir owned his Macbook but Apple is the company that controlled, and continues to control access to his data. Apple are the only ones with power to release data to another entity but they also have to comply with government rules. However, is there a fine line in government legislation that would allow Apple to give Colin Hehir access to his son’s data? Mr Hehir said, “We’re put on this earth to help one another and Apple should help people in our situation”, which is common sense and is a resonance of words by Steve Jobs about inspiring others and changing the world. Still, sometimes legislation isn’t about common sense that suits all, it’s about public protection.

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There’s also Apple’s plausible argument that, “In the absence of permission for third party access to an account, it is impossible to be certain what access the user would have wanted and we do not consider it is appropriate that Apple make the decision.” It is only fair to consider the father and son relationship – would Morgan Hehir have allowed his father to access his data? Perhaps the solution would be for companies like Apple to ask their buyers to nominate someone to allow them access to data in case of death or severely debilitating illness. That would certainly avoid the distressing and stressful situation of having to get a court order. But perhaps there’s a way around it for Mr Hehir, if a letter from a lawyer would suffice.  By Sandra Garcao

If you have any concerns and think a letter from a lawyer would help you with any issues you’re facing, please contact us.


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