Government seminars may miss target SME audience

The government's Information Commissioner has launched a series of free online seminars to help organisations understand and...

The government's Information Commissioner has launched a series of free online seminars to help organisations understand and comply with the Data Protection Act.

The move will be welcomed by businesses, public sector bodies and voluntary organisations, but it is also a tacit admission that many organisations have failed to meet the 24 October deadline for compliance with the Data Protection Act (DPA).

The Information Commissioner, Elizabeth France, is refusing to speculate on compliance levels across the UK, but some experts believe four in five organisations are at fault in some way.

Small businesses often struggle to cope with government regulations and the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) told that, while the content of the Information Commissioner's online seminars was welcome, some of the most needy organisations lacked the software to take advantage.

Peter Scargill, national IT chairman for the FSB, said: "I was impressed by the use of audio-visual technology, but then I began to wonder how this would work for the majority of users who have 56k modems or worse. I suspect the audio content would suffer.

"I think a text-only document should be available. They are making a lot of assumptions about users, including a requirement for Flash 5 playback and the ability to read PDF documents."

Scargill also found technical problems with a "page not found" message occurring on several occasions.

William Horley, the Information Commissioner's Web site manager, admitted that there are currently no plans to have text-only documents of the seminars on the site. Moves are being made, however, to make the seminars available to those who cannot view them online.

"We have had feedback from people who have difficulty viewing the online seminars. We are looking at the possibility of putting the seminars on CD-ROM so they can be available to all," Horley added.

The Information Commissioner was keen to listen to the views of SMEs during the run-up to the DPA compliance deadline. As a result, the Government decided against making it statutory for all businesses to have a data protection officer. "We feel it is unfair on small companies, and the businesses we discussed this with were generally not in favour of it," said France.

The first online seminar covers notification, the process by which a firm is added to the information Commissioner's public register of data controllers. Others cover the transfer of personal data to countries outside of the European Economic Area and the fair and lawful processing of personal data.

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