UNIT 2 - ⇑ Consequences of Uses of Computing ⇑

← Legal and ethical issues Legislation Code of conduct →

The way you use data and computers is subject to the law of the country you are living in. Across the world different countries have different laws, for the exam you only need to learn about the laws that affect the United Kingdom.

You must be familiar with the following legislation:

Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations 1992 edit

The Health and Safety Act was passed in 1992 and set out to promote excellence in managing health and safety in the work place. There are strict guidelines on how a desk is set up including provision for monitor positioning, adjustable chairs etc. Health and Safety is paramount when using computers for prolonged periods of time. Sitting in front of a computer screen typing and/or using a mouse is not a natural act for a human being and may result in health problems such as Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI), back and eye issues.

An example of a sensibly laid out work place

The Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations 1992 state that an employer must:

  • make sure screens are adjustable and have anti glare filters
  • provide supportive chairs that are adjustable
  • provide foot supports
  • provide breaks in computer work routine
  • pay for eye treatment if necessary

Any employer failing to do this may be subject to a criminal investigation.

Copyright, Design and Patents Act 1988 edit

The Copyright, Design and Patents Act 1988 affects how people can acquire, use and share ideas, software and media.

Patent edit

A patent is a form of intellectual property which an individual or organisation owns the right to for a fixed period of time, allowing them to charge people for the use of it. After that time has expired the idea is in the public domain. Patents include the design of the lightbulb (1841) and the ejector seat (1916).

Growth of software patents in US

Computing has seen patents in hardware and more recently in software. There are many people who believe that software patents are damaging to Computer Science, as they stop innovation and stifle creativity. A famous case was BT trying to patent the hyperlink. If this had been successful, then every time a hyperlink was used (every page on the World Wide Web), someone might have had to pay money to BT for the privilege. Other people see software patents as important in defending the intellectual property of inventors, if someone creates something new they should be rewarded for it. Other software patents include: the MP3 and GIF. Countries such as India do not have software patents.

Copyright edit

Software copyright refers to the law regarding the copying of computer software. Many companies and individuals write software and sell it for money, these products are copyrighted and you cannot copy the code or the program without the permission of the maker. This, they believe protects the work of the programmers, rewarding them for their efforts

Copyright symbol
Public domain symbol
Copy-Left symbol

Other companies and individuals release software under Free and Open Source software (FOSS) licenses. These licenses allow users the right to use, study, change, and improve a program's design through the availability of its source code. Some adherents of FOSS believe it creates better software in the long term, and others believe that no software should be copyrighted. FOSS licensed products are heavily used in running the World Wide Web and in the creation of popular websites such as Facebook. Open Source licenses generally mean that if you create software that makes changes to open source code, and choose to release it, you must release your new code under the same Open Source license, this is called Copy-Left. Some free software is in the public domain, meaning that you can use it for whatever purpose you wish, if you make a software product involving changes to public domain sources code, you don't have to release your code into the public domain.

Copyright in most works lasts until 70 years after the death of the creator if known, otherwise 70 years after the work was created or published (fifty years for computer-generated works).

In summary the act specifies that users are not allowed to:

  • use copyright material without permission
  • use patented design without permission
  • edit programs without permission
  • copy or distribute software when you don't have permission

Computer Misuse Act 1990 edit

Personal Data - data that can be used to identify a living individual

The Computer Misuse Act 1990 deals with people who crack computer programs or systems. Crimes might include removing the Copyright protective measures from a commercial software product, breaking into a school database to change grades, hacking into a companies' website and stealing customer credit card details, creating viruses and trojans, and so on. It was recognised in the late 1980s that the increase in business and home use of computers required legislation in order to protect against their exploitation. To this end, in 1990 the Computer Misuse Act was established.

Under the act, three new offences were created:

It prohibits:

  • unauthorised access to computer material
It must be shown that the perpetrator accessed the data, that they were unauthorised, and that they knew they were unauthorised.
  • unauthorised access with intent to commit or facilitate commission of further offences
To prove ulterior intent, it must be shown that they wished to use the information in order to commit a further offence.
  • unauthorised modification of computer material
Unauthorised modification also includes deliberate introduction of a virus onto a computer system.

"Obtaining access" means; "Causing the computer to perform any action the results in it": Copying/moving data, Erasing/altering data, Using a program; or Causing the computer to output programs or data.

A difficulty with computer crime is that it can cross physical and national borders, the Computer Misuse Act recognises this fact and gives British Courts the jurisdiction where a "significant link" with Britain can be demonstrated in instances of computer-related crime. America has its own Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.

Data Protection Act 1998 edit

The Data Protection Act 1998 controls the way that companies, organisations and individuals handle personal data. It states that:

  1. Data may only be used for the specific purposes for which it was collected.
  2. Data must not be disclosed to other parties without the consent of the individual whom it is about, unless there is legislation or other overriding legitimate reason to share the information (for example, the prevention or detection of crime). It is an offence for Other Parties to obtain this personal data without authorisation.
  3. Individuals have a right of access to the information held about them, subject to certain exceptions (for example, information held for the prevention or detection of crime).
  4. Personal information may be kept for no longer than is necessary and must be kept up to date.
  5. Personal information may not be sent outside the European Economic Area unless the individual whom it is about has consented or adequate protection is in place, for example by the use of a prescribed form of contract to govern the transmission of the data.
  6. Subject to some exceptions for organisations that only do very simple processing, and for domestic use, all entities that process personal information must register with the Information Commissioner's Office.
  7. The departments of a company that are holding personal information are required to have adequate security measures in place. Those include technical measures (such as firewalls) and organisational measures (such as staff training).
  8. Subjects have the right to have factually incorrect information corrected (note: this does not extend to matters of opinion)

Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 edit

The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act was passed in 2000, and introduces the power to intercept communications with the aim of taking into account the growth of the Internet. It regulates the manner in which certain public bodies may conduct surveillance and access a person's electronic communications. Supporters of the act claimed this was an excuse to introduce new measures, some of these included being able to force someone to reveal a cryptographic key for their data, with failure to do so resulting in up to 2 years imprisonment. As we have seen in packet switching, data can be read in transit between hosts. However, the act goes further than allowing this:

  • enables certain public bodies to demand that an ISP provide access to a customer's communications in secret;
  • enables mass surveillance of communications in transit;
  • enables certain public bodies to demand ISPs fit equipment to facilitate surveillance;
  • enables certain public bodies to demand that someone hand over keys to protected information;
  • allows certain public bodies to monitor people's internet activities;
  • prevents the existence of interception warrants and any data collected with them from being revealed in court.
Exercise: Legislation

What is meant by personal data?


Data that can be directly linked to a living individual, such as a telephone number, address or picture.

If applicable, name the law(s) that impact on the following situations and what part of the law(s) they are affected by:

  • A tele-sales worker speaks to a customer and likes the sound of their voice. They go to the customer's record and find their home address. They send flowers for valentines day


Data Protection Act: Data is not being used for appropriate reasons

  • An office manager refuses to let their programmers/staff take a tea break, forcing them to work for 5 hours straight.


Health and Safety Regulations: Companies must allow workers to take regular breaks.

  • A customer phones up a sales company and demands to know every detail that the sales company knows about them. The company refuses.


Data Protection Act: Companies must provide information held about individuals when requested (though they may charge a fee).

  • A teacher creates a resource using a company's logo and pretends it is an internal document from Microsoft.


Copyright, Design and Patents Act 1988: Logos and other copyright materials cannot be used without the permission of the copyright holder (fair use in educational settings does not apply to the UK).

  • A student has the latest computer game and makes a copy for their friend.


Copyright, Design and Patents Act 1988: It is illegal to make copies of copyright material without permission from the copyright holder.

  • An A2 student creates a program to read packets that pass through the router on their home network.


If the network is shared with other people and they aren't aware of this:

Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000: It is illegal to intercept or tamper with internet messages.


This is not illegal.

Name 3 things that the Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations 1992 asks you to do:


  • make sure screens are adjustable and have anti glare filters
  • provide supportive chairs that are adjustable
  • provide foot supports
  • provide breaks in computer work routine
  • pay for eye treatment if necessary