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Friday, March 11, 2005

Theoretical ponderings 

I know that some people are getting heartily fed up with the whole HBS 119 thing, so let me start by saying that this post isn’t directly about that. It does however come from a chain of thought that was inspired by some of the discussions around it, so forgive me from starting out from 119 territory.

Some of the discussion has centred on who owns the information and whether an individual has a right to see information that is, after all, about them. Other discussion has concerned itself with security and the issues of holding information about people in an insecure manner In the UK we have a piece of legislation called the Data Protection Act (there’s equivalent legislation in other EU countries) which gives individuals rights regarding the information which is held about them and places responsibilities on the organisations holding that information. One of the responsibilities is that information has to be held securely, and one of the rights is that individuals have access to the information that’s held about them (subject access). Naturally, there are a whole load of exceptions when it comes to subject access. MI5 doesn’t have to tell me what they have in my file, to give an example.

So my train of thought started wondering about the whole HBS 119 thing from the security angle and wondering whether if this had occurred in the EU, complaints would be being made on Data Protection grounds. Then I started thinking about it from a subject access point of view. There are subject access exemptions which mean that schools don’t necessarily have to reveal information about past or present pupils. There’s also an exception which means that exam results don’t have to be disclosed prior to their publication date. But I’m not sure that there’s anything directly in the legislation that would mean that a B-school could refuse to provide an applicant with details of what’s on their file (references probably excepted) if the applicant requested it. (Schools in the EU may of course be requiring applicants to waive their rights, although I don’t know if they do or if indeed they can.)

So, at least in theory, an applicant to say, LBS, could try to use the DPA to get their decision early. In all likelihood this wouldn’t be very practical though. Data controllers have up to 40 days to respond, and it’s very likely that in most cases there’s less than 40 days between a final decision being made and that decision being communicated. Not to mention that such a request may not be looked on very favourably by the school. If though you were dinged by a school and had no intention of re-applying (and therefore nothing to lose) could you get a copy of your file? I wonder.

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