UK Legislation relevant to Computer Science

As a computer scientist, you need to be aware of the legislation that is relevant to the use of Computer Science related technologies.

Whether you are designing a new website, creating a computer program or system or just using a computer in your work, you have to make sure you are always acting lawfully.

In the UK, there are three main acts that are very relevant to the use of computer science technologies:

  1. The Copyright, Designs & Patents Act
  2. The Data Protection Act
  3. The Computer Misuse Act

Let’s find out more about this legislation.

The Copyright, Designs & Patents ActThe Data Protection ActThe Computer Misuse Act

The Copyright, Designs & Patents Act

This act provides a legal means of ensuring that content creators can protect the work they have produced.

When anyone creates something, they automatically own it. This could include:

  • a picture, drawing or photograph
  • an animation, a film or a video clip
  • a sound file, podcast or music
  • a piece of text incl. an article, news report, blog post or a book
  • a video game or a computer program (e.g. source code)

When using copyrighted material, it is illegal to…

  • Make copies
  • Publish
  • Distribute
  • Sell copies

…unless you have been given permission by the copyright owner.

The Data Protection Act

The purpose of this act is to ensure our personal data is being used and dealt with sensibly.

Example of personal data:

  • Name and address
  • Date of birth
  • Employment records
  • Medical records
  • Religion/faith

This act stipulates that personal information stored on a computer system must be kept securely.

Personal data shall be processed fairly and lawfully in accordance with the rights of data subjects.

When an organisation stores personal data about individuals on a computer system, they must only store data that is relevant/necessary, accurate and up-to-date.

Personal data kept by an organisation on a computer system shall not be kept for longer than is necessary and should be deleted if it is no longer needed.

When personal data is shared with a third party, it has to be done fairly and lawfully, securely and with the permission of the data subject.

The Computer Misuse Act

The purpose of this act is to discourage people from accessing computer systems without permission (hacking) whether to intend to commit further illegal activities or not.

This acts make it illegal to access data on a computer when that material will be used to commit further illegal activity, such as fraud or blackmail.

It is also illegal to access and change the contents of someone’s files without their permission. It is therefore illegal to install a virus or other malware on someone’s computer as this is done without their consent.

UK Legislation: Drag and Drop Task

Complete the following activity to test your understanding of the three main UK legislation relevant to Computer Science.
UK Legislation – Drag and DropOpen in New Window

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