The Right To Access Data

Legislation As Stumbling Block

Apple told a grieving father from Coventry, Mr Colin Hehir, that he needed to obtain a court order, to allow him access to Morgan Hehir’s computer – his late son’s computer. What the father wanted was to be able to retrieve personal data from his son’s computer. Common sense tells us that a father is within his right to gain access to his son’s personal data – photos, memories, legal issues such as bank accounts, bills and mortgage. What a difficult dilemma, both for the father and for Apple – to break or not to break data protection rules?

Data Protection Principles

The Data Protection Act controls how your personal information is used. Those who process data must follow strict rules, or also referred to the data protection principles. Data can be used for limited, specifically stated purposes and kept for no longer than is absolutely necessary. It should be handled according to a person’s data protection rights, also categorised as human rights.

Clarity On Legislation

The data protection act, GDPR, is applicable to living persons. What does the law say about someone like the late Morgan Hehir’s personal data being accessed by his father? How would you determine who should be allowed access to a deceased person’s personal data? According to Apple, it was inappropriate and unlawful to allow Colin Hehir gain access to his son’s computer, containing all his personal data, even after providing them with death and probate certificates. Apple maintained that a court order was needed to overrule (for want of a better term) the data protection act.

Who’s In Charge

Apple is the company that holds and controls access to data. So Apple is under the data protection legislation. If Apple breaches this legislation, they’re liable. Apple is in the position to release data to another entity but they also have to compliant with governmental rules. However, is there a fine line between government legislation and common sense? Is that fine line ever a division?

The Principle vs The Legislation

Mr Colin Hehir stated, “We’re put on this earth to help one another and Apple should help people in our situation”, which is common sense and it resonates with Steve Jobs own vision, to inspire others and change the world. Still, sometimes legislation isn’t about common sense that suits all, it’s about public protection.

Possible Resolution

Apple’s plausible argument was 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.” 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, allowing them access to data in case of death or severely debilitating illness. In the meantime, a letter from a lawyer or a court order could suffice.

If you have any concerns and think a letter from a lawyer would help you with any issues you’re facing in relation to data protection and data accessibility, please contact us. SG

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