Information and Communication Technology

ICT legal constraints on using information

What you may and may not do with digital data

There is a huge amount of data held in computer systems. Personal information, financial records, business data, books, films, weather records, and much more.

This page looks at the laws and regulations that control how all this data may be used.

Who can hold it, how it must be secured, what can be done with it, and what happens if the rules are not followed.

Use of personal data

Legal issues about what you may do with personal data

Under UK and European Union (EU) law, personal data may be defined as data about a living, identifiable person which is held electronically.

Other countries may have less restrictive definitions, or none at all. e.g. In the USA, there is limited protection under the terms of The Constitution, although some of the individual states have passed State Laws to cover data protection.

Protection of personal data in the UK and the EU must comply with the EU data protection directive

Fortunately, for the IGCSE ICT course, the directive can be reduced to 8 principles. Briefly, these are:

  1. A person must be told when their data is collected.
  2. Data must only be used for the purpose given when it was collected.
  3. Data must not be disclosed without the consent of the person concerned.
  4. Data must be kept secure.
  5. A person who's data is being collected must be told who is collecting it.
  6. A person must be allowed to access their data and make corrections if it is not accurate
  7. Data must not be transferred to another country that has weaker data protection laws
  8. There must be a method by which people can check that data holders are complying with the principles.

There are numerous exemptions and qualifications in data protection law, but for examination purposes it could reasonably be assumed that the 8 principles should be followed.

In view of the international nature of my readers, I have used the OECD guidelines in this module. The guidelines are given in full here.

Different countries have different laws, but the UK and all other EU countries' laws comply with the OECD guidelines. The USA has signed up to the guidelines but has not implemented them.

Data protection laws for many countries are summarised here.


Legal issues when obtaining information

The Internet is a source for a wide range of downloadable material such as music, books, games, and utility and security software.

Much of this material is available for no charge, but the fact that it is available for nothing does not always mean that it is legal to download it.

There are a lot of grey areas in this topic.

Some of the main problems are:

For examination purposes, it is usually best to stick to clear and unambiguous examples. e.g.

Acknowledgement and licensing

Legal issues when using information

Apart from Public Domain material, just about every other piece of information is legally protected in some way or another.

In many cases, the information is available for general use under a licence.

If the licence is commercial, payment is often required and the owner of the material may set conditions of use. Commercial licences are highly variable as licences may be specially written for specific commercial purposes.

Non-commercial licences, often known as public licences, do not require payment, although they may still specify conditions of use. The most common of these conditions is that the original source / author be acknowledged if the material is distributed in any way.

Another common requirement is that if the material is distributed it must be done under an identical licence, even if the material has been changed or mixed with other material. This is sometimes called Copyleft.

Non-commercial licences are generally simpler than commercial ones and are usually written to follow a common format.

A good site for finding more about non-commercial licences is Creative Commons.

Plagiarism and permissions

Legal issues when claiming ownership of work

Plagiarism means a person copying someone else's work and passing it off as their own.

This often involves a breach of copyright as well, but even if the work is not subject to copyright, it would still be plagiarism if the person claimed that it was theirs.

Most plagiarism, outside of the educational system, usually involves one person copying another person's work without their permission and without acknowledging the source.

Inside the education system however, it is quite common to find cases of plagiarism where copying has been done with the owner's permission. e.g. submitting a piece of coursework that had been done by an older brother or sister in a previous year.

This is often called collusion instead of plagiarism, but the only difference is that both of the people involved know about the attempted deception.

Plagiarism may be avoided by the process of getting permission from the original author, assuming that the work is still subject to copyright, and acknowledging the source.

Plagiarism has become increasingly easy to commit as the Internet has grown and many colleges, universities, examination boards and similar organisations now use anti-plagiarism software to check students' work

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