Your name is an aspect of your personality as well as your personal data

By Dr Angela Adrian

In the case of Edem v Information Commissioner, [2014] EWCA Civ 92, the Court of Appeal confirmed the scope of its ruling in the Durant case. “An individual’s name constitutes their personal data.” Although the Court noted that a name may not constitute an individual’s personal data where the name is so common that without further information (such as its use in a work context) a person would remain unidentifiable.

The Court narrowed the application of Durant v FSA, [2003] EWCA Civ 1746, where personal data was determined using the following criteria: The data must:

• be biographical in a significant sense; and

• have the data subject as its focus.

However, context was key in the Durant case. Mr Durant had requested access to documents in which he was merely mentioned by name on the basis that these documents constituted his personal data. The above principles were applied by the Court to explain why the documents requested were not Mr Durant’s personal data; the principles were only ever intended to be relevant to borderline cases.

In Edem, the Court found that the principles in Durant were not relevant because the employee names were clearly personal data. Significantly, the Court also sought to reconcile the approach in Durant with the ICO’s technical guidance on determining what is personal data and endorsed the approach advocated by the ICO in the following passage of the ICO’s guidance:

“It is important to remember that it is not always necessary to consider ‘biographical significance’ to determine whether data is personal data. In many cases data may be personal data simply because its content is such that it is ‘obviously about’ an individual. Alternatively, data may be personal data because it is clearly ‘linked to’ an individual because it is about his activities and is processed for the purpose of determining or influencing the way in which that person is treated. You need to consider ‘biographical significance’ only where information is not ‘obviously about’ an individual or clearly ‘linked to’ him.”

The Court of Appeal’s finding that an individual’s name constitutes their personal data is not surprising; however, the value of this decision is the confirmation provided by the Court on the scope of its own decision in Durant and reconciling the approach in Durant with the ICO’s technical guidance.