Today, 28 January 2011, marks the fifth annual European Data Protection day. Indeed, it was on this day, 30 years ago, that the rather snappily titled Council of Europe's Convention for the Protection of Individuals with Regard to Automatic Processing of Personal Data opened for signature.

The day is being celebrated not only in Europe, but across the world, including in the USA and Canada, where today is celebrated as Data Privacy Day. The event is designed to raise general awareness of data protection issues and to encourage the adoption of good data protection practices. Today is the culmination of a landmark year for data protection enforcement in the UK - a year which saw monetary penalties of £100,000 and £60,000 handed down to Hertfordshire County Council and A4e in November 2010 for serious breaches of the Data Protection Act 1998. Importantly, these significant 'fines' were the first use by the UK Information Commissioner's Office ("ICO") of new powers to issue fines of up to £500,000 for data protection breaches (more information available here).

The ICO has also marked today with the relaunch of its Personal Information Toolkit (available here), which contains tips on how to keep personal details secure online, as well as providing information about people's data protection rights. The previous version of this Toolkit was popular, having been requested by over 100,000 people. It is hoped that today's Toolkit will prove even more effective in enabling citizens to exercise their data protection rights more effectively.

The ICO themselves note that there is room for improvement. Indeed, the Toolkit relaunch comes at the same time as the ICO have published findings (available here) of their Annual Track survey, which monitors both public and business understanding and awareness of the UK's data protection and freedom of information laws. In this year's survey, despite growing awareness of data protection, 80% of people surveyed were noted to be concerned about protecting their personal information online.

In this regard, Information Commissioner, Christopher Graham, stressed: "It's never been more important to protect your personal information. Whether you're surfing the net, shopping online or signing up to social networking sites, it's crucial that people are thinking about how information might be used".

There is also a need for more businesses to pro-actively engage with data protection issues, with the ICO survey also finding that 92% of individuals are concerned that organisations do not keep their details secure.

The need for individuals and businesses to remain mindful of both their rights and responsibilities under data protection legislation is therefore more important than ever. As a Data Protection Day gift, MacRoberts have compiled a list of data protection FAQ's (available here) to assist you and your business with the basics of data protection.