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Aspects of Law and Ethics Related to Technology

Dr Carlisle George, an invited speaker at the recent JISC conference on Legal Issues of Online Learning Environments

June 2005

Dr Carlisle George, Senior Lecturer in the School of Computing Science and a Barrister of Lincoln's Inn was an invited speaker at the recent JISC conference on Legal Issues of Online Learning Environments, University of Warwick, 31st May - 2 June 2005.

JISC (Joint Information Systems Committee) - works with further and higher education by providing strategic guidance, advice and opportunities to use Information Technology to support teaching, learning, research and administration.

His talk was entitled: Data Protection – Peeking Over the Study Cubicle… Online!

Dr George’s talk focused on various issues of data protection law which arise from the use of online learning environments, highlighting some areas which are likely to give rise to institutional risk. He discussed technical and organisational measures to be taken by HE institutions to ensure compliance with the Data Protection Act 1998. These measures included: having appropriate contractual agreements with anyone accessing personal data, training staff on data protection issues, having effective disclosure policies, having role-based security, and implementing appropriate network security among others.

He also discussed uses of personal data gathered in a Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) (e.g. for learner guidance and support, course administration, management etc.) and the practice of tracking and recording student online activity, pointing out the potential for invasion of privacy and misuse of such data. He stressed the legal obligation under the Data Protection Act 1998 to give appropriate notice to students whenever personal data are collected from them, especially to inform them of the purpose(s) for which the data are collected. He noted that students should also be given the opportunity to consent or withdraw their consent as appropriate.

Dr George further discussed some relevant legal issues regarding possible student objections to automated assessment, use of tracking information and disclosure of personal data to third parties.

June 2005