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Privacy Basics: The OECD Guidelines

In late 1980, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development issued a set of Guidelines concerning the privacy of personal records. Although broad, the OECD guidelines set up important standards for future governmental privacy rules. These guidelines underpin most current international agreements, national laws, and self-regulatory policies. Although the guidelines were voluntary, roughly half of OECD member-nations had already passed or proposed privacy-protecting legislation by 1980. By 1983, 182 American companies claimed to have adopted the guidelines, although very few have ever implemented practices that directly matched the standards.

The OECD Guidelines are as follows:

1. Collection Limitation Principle

There should be limits to the collection of personal data and any such data should be obtained by lawful and fair means and, where appropriate, with the knowledge or consent of the data subject.

2. Data Quality Principle

Personal data should be relevant to the purposes for which they are to be used, and, to the extent necessary for those purposes, should be accurate, complete and kept up-to-date.

3. Purpose Specification Principle

The purposes for which personal data are collected should be specified not later than at the time of data collection and the subsequent use limited to the fulfillment of those purposes or such others as are not incompatible with those purposes and as are specified on each occasion of change of purpose.

4. Use Limitation Principle

Personal data should not be disclosed, made available or otherwise used for purposes other than those specified in accordance with Paragraph 9 except:

  1. with the consent of the data subject; or
  2. by the authority of law.

5. Security Safeguards Principle

Personal data should be protected by reasonable security safeguards against such risks as loss or unauthorized access, destruction, use, modification or disclosure of data.

6. Openness Principle

There should be a general policy of openness about developments, practices and policies with respect to personal data. Means should be readily available of establishing the existence and nature of personal data, and the main purposes of their use, as well as the identity and usual residence of the data controller.

7. Individual Participation Principle

An individual should have the right:

  1. to obtain from a data controller, or otherwise, confirmation of whether or not the data controller has data relating to him;
  2. to have communicated to him, data relating to him
    1. within a reasonable time;
    2. at a charge, if any, that is not excessive;
    3. in a reasonable manner; and
    4. in a form that is readily intelligible to him;
  3. to be given reasons if a request made under subparagraphs(a) and (b) is denied, and to be able to challenge such denial; and
  4. to challenge data relating to him and, if the challenge is successful to have the data erased, rectified, completed or amended.

8. Accountability Principle

A data controller should be accountable for complying with measures which give effect to the principles stated above. The United States endorsed the OECD Guidelines.