The Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) is urging organisations not to hide behind the Data Protection Act unnecessarily when dealing with data requests from individuals.
The ICO's call comes during Stupid Aid Week (1-5 September), which highlights common misunderstandings such as the belief by some organisations that data protection stops them giving out any personal information, or prevents them from dealing with certain types of enquiries.
A guide called "Overcome stupidity in the world around you" is being launched during Stupid Aid Week by the Flexible Thinking Forum. It is written by Andy Green, a creativity expert.
Examples of data protection "duck outs" include parents not being allowed to take photos of their child at a nativity play, teachers unable to promote the successes of pupils in the local media, and priests prevented from praying for an ill person by name during mass.
David Smith, deputy commissioner at the Information Commissioner's Office, said, "All too often we hear of cases where organisations have not properly thought through whether they can respond to enquiries from individuals. They have simply said no and used data protection as a duck out.
"The Data Protection Act does not impose a blanket ban on the release of personal information. What it does do is require a common sense approach. It should not be used as an excuse by those reluctant to take a balanced decision."
He said the Act can be undermined when it is used in a way that defies common sense.
Examples of data protection myths:
The Data Protection Act stops parents from taking photos in schools
Under the Data Protection Act an insurance company cannot send out a claim form if it has been requested by someone other than the policyholder, such as the policyholder's wife
The Data Protection Act stops parents from finding out their children's exam results
The Act prevents priests from naming sick parishioners during church prayers