The voluntary data controller

One last post on #samaritansradar. I hope.

I am given to understand that Samaritans, having pulled their benighted app, have begun responding to the various legal notices people served on them under the Data Protection Act 1998 (specifically, these were notices under section 7 (subject access) section 10 (right to prevent processing likely to cause damage or distress) and section 12 (rights in relation to automated processing)). I tweeted my section 12 notice, but I doubt I’ll get a response to that, because they’ve never engaged with me once on twitter or elsewhere.

However, I have been shown a response to a section 7 request (which I have permission to blog about) and it continues to raise questions about Samaritans’ handling of this matter (and indeed, their legal advice – which hasn’t been disclosed, or even  really hinted at). The response, in relevant part, says

We are writing to acknowledge the subject access request that you sent to Samaritans via DM on 6 November 2014.  Samaritans has taken advice on this matter and believe that we are not a data controller of information passing through the Samaritans Radar app. However, in response to concerns that have been raised, we have agreed to voluntarily take on the obligations of a data controller in an attempt to facilitate requests made as far as we can. To this end, whilst a Subject Access Request made under the Data Protection Act can attract a £10 fee, we do not intend to charge any amount to provide information on this occasion.

So, Samaritans continue to deny being data controller for #samaritansradar, although they continue also merely to give assertions, not any legal analysis. But, notwithstanding their belief that they are not controller they are taking on the obligations of a data controller.

I think they need to be careful. A person who knowingly discloses personal data without the consent of the data controller potentially commits a criminal offence under section 55 DPA. One can’t just step in, grab personal data and start processing it, without acting in breach of the law. Unless one is a data controller.

And, in seriousness, this purported adoption of the role of “voluntary data controller” just bolsters the view that Samaritans have been data controllers from the start, for reasons laid out repeatedly on this blog and others. They may have acted as joint data controller with users of the app, but I simply cannot understand how they can claim not to have been determining the purposes for which and the manner in which personal data were processed. And if they were, they were a data controller.


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