Category Archives: Data Protection Act 2018

Data protection nonsense on gov.uk

It feels like a while since I randomly picked on some wild online disinformation about data protection, but when you get an itch, you gotta scratch, and this page of government guidance for businesses – “Get your business ready to employ staff: step by step” – specifically on “Personal data an employer can keep about an employee” certainly got me itching. It starts off sensibly enough by saying that

Employers must keep their employees’ personal data safe, secure and up to date.

This is true (Article 5(1)(f) and part of 5(1)(c) UK GDPR). And the page goes on to list some information can be “kept” (for which I charitably read “processed”) without employees’ permission, such as: name, address, date of birth, sex, education and qualifications, work experience, National Insurance number, tax code, emergency contact details, employment history with the organisation, employment terms and conditions, any accidents connected with work, any training taken, any disciplinary action. All pretty inoffensive, although I’m not sure what it’s trying to achieve. But then…oh my. Then, it says

Employers need their employees’ permission to keep certain types of ’sensitive’ data

We could stop there really, and snigger cruelly, Consent (aka “permission”) as a condition for processing personal data is complicated and quite frankly to be avoided if possible. It comes laden with quite strict requirements. The Information Commissioner puts it quite well

Consent is appropriate if you can offer people real choice and control over how you use their data, and want to build their trust and engagement. But if you cannot offer a genuine choice, consent is not appropriate. If you would still process the personal data without consent, asking for consent is misleading and inherently unfair…employers and other organisations in a position of power over individuals should avoid relying on consent unless they are confident they can demonstrate it is freely given

And let’s consider the categories of personal data the government page thinks employers should get “permission” to “keep”: race and ethnicity, religion, political membership or opinions, trade union membership, genetics [sic], biometrics, , health and medical conditions, sexual history or orientation.

But how quickly would an employer’s wheels grind to a halt if it couldn’t process personal data on an employee’s health “without her permission”? It would be unable to refer her to occupational health if she didn’t “permit” it. It would be unable to keep a record of her sickness absence if she withdrew her consent (consent should be as easy to withdraw as it is to give (see Article 7(3)). During the COVID pandemic, it would have been unable to keep a record of whether she had tested positive or not, if she said she didn’t want a record kept.

It’s nonsense, of course. There’s a whole range of gateways, plus a whole Schedule of the Data Protection Act 2018), which provide conditions for processing special categories of data without having to get someone’s consent. They include pressing social imperatives, like compliance with public health law, and promotion of equality of treatment and safeguarding of children or other vulnerable people. The conditions don’t apply across the board, but the point is that employees’ permission – their consent – is rarely, if ever, required when there is another compelling reason for processing their data.

I don’t really understand what need, what gap, the government page is trying to fill, but the guidance is pretty calamitous. And it is only likely to lead to confusion for business owners and employers, and runs the risk of pitting themselves against each other – with disputes arising – amidst the confusion.

BAH!

Now, that felt better. Like I say, sometimes it’s good to scratch that itch.

The views in this post (and indeed most posts on this blog) are my personal ones, and do not represent the views of any organisation I am involved with.

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Filed under consent, Data Protection, Data Protection Act 2018, Let's Blame Data Protection, UK GDPR

Podcast on UK data protection reforms

My Mishcon de Reya colleague Adam Rose and I have recorded a short (25 minute) podcast on the government’s recent announcement of proposed data protection reforms.

UK Data Reform – what’s being proposed? (mishcon.com)

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Filed under adequacy, Data Protection, Data Protection Act 2018, GDPR, UK GDPR

Data reform – hot news or hot air?

I’ve written a piece for the Mishcon de Reya website on the some of the key proposals (for our client-base) in today’s data protection reform announcement.

Data protection law reform – major changes, but the (mishcon.com)

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Filed under adequacy, consent, cookies, Data Protection, Data Protection Act 2018, DPO, GDPR, Information Commissioner, international transfers, nuisance calls, PECR, UK GDPR

COVID booster messages and the law

GET BOOSTED NOW Every adult needs a COVID-19 booster vaccine to protect against Omicron. Get your COVID-19 vaccine or booster. See NHS website for details

On Boxing Day, this wording appears to have been sent as an SMS in effect to every mobile telephone number in the UK. The relevant government web page explains that the message is part of the national “Get Boosted Now” campaign to protect against the Omicron variant of COVID-19. The web page also thanks the Mobile Network Operators for “their assistance in helping deliver the vitally important Get Boosted Now message”.

It is inevitable that questions may get raised raised about the legality of the SMSs under data protection law. What is important to note is that, although – to the extent that the sending involved the processing of personal data – the GDPR may apply (or, rather, the UK GDPR) the relevant law is actually the Privacy and Electronic Communications (EC Directive) Regulations 2003 (“PECR”). Under the doctrine of lex specialis where two laws govern the same situation, the more specific rules will prevail over more general rules. Put another way, if the more specific PECR can justify the sending of the SMSs, then the sending will also be justified under the more general provisions of UK GDPR.

Regulation 16A of PECR (inserted by a 2015 amendment), provides that where a “relevant communications provider” (in this case a Mobile Network Operator) is notified by a government minister (or certain other persons, such as chief constables) that an “emergency” has occurred, is occurring or is about to occur, and that it is expedient to use an emergency alert service, then the usual restrictions on the processing of traffic and location data can be disregarded. In this instance, given the wording on the government website, one assumes that such a notification was indeed made by a government minister under regulation 16A. (These are different emergency alerts to those proposed to be able to be sent under the National Emergency Alert system from 2022 which will not directly involve the mobile network operators.)

“Emergency” is not defined in PECR, so presumably will take its definition here from section 1(1)(a) of the Civil Contingencies Act 2004 – “an event or situation which threatens serious damage to human welfare in a place in the United Kingdom”.

The effect of this is that, if the SMSs are legal under PECR, they will also be legal under Article 6(1)(c) and 6(1)(e) of the UK GDPR (on the grounds that processing is necessary for compliance with a legal obligation to which the controller is subject, and/or necessary for the performance of a task carried out in the public interest).

There is an interesting side note as to whether, even though the SMSs count as emergency alerts, they might also be seen as direct marketing messages under regulations 22 and 23 of PECR, thus requiring the content of the recipient before they could be sent. Under the current guidance from the Information Commissioner (ICO), one might argue that they would be. “Direct marketing” is defined in the Data Protection Act 2018 as “the communication (by whatever means) of advertising or marketing material which is directed to particular individuals” and the ICO defines it further by saying that this “covers any advertising or marketing material, not just commercial marketing. All promotional material falls within this definition, including material promoting the aims of not-for-profit organisations”. Following that line of thought, it is possible that the Omicron SMSs were both emergency alerts and direct marketing messages. This would be an odd state of affairs (and one doubts very much that a judge – or the ICO, if challenged on this – would actually agree with its own guidance and say that these SMSs were indeed direct marketing messages). The ICO is in the process of updating its direct marketing guidance, and might be well advised to consider the issue of emergency alerts (which aren’t covered in the current consultation document).

[Edited to add: I don’t think what I say above necessarily covers all the legal issues, and no doubt there are aspects of this that could have been done better, but I doubt very much there is any substantive legal challenge which can be made.]

The views in this post (and indeed most posts on this blog) are my personal ones, and do not represent the views of any organisation I am involved with.

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Filed under communications data, consent, Data Protection, Data Protection Act 2018, GDPR, Information Commissioner, PECR, UK GDPR

Gov says “no” to UK GDPR opt-out actions but…

A post by me on the Mishcon de Reya website – the government has declined to bring into operation Article 80(2) of the (UK) GDPR, but does that mean that the Supreme Court will be more likely to uphold the Court of Appeal judgment in Lloyd v Google?

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Filed under Data Protection, Data Protection Act 2018, DCMS, GDPR, UK GDPR

Start the DSAR countdown (but how?)

A while ago I wrote a piece on the Mishcon de Reya website pointing out that the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) had silently changed its guidance on how to calculate the “one month” timescale for responding to a subject access request under the General Data Protection Regulation (or “GDPR” – which is now domestic law in the form of the amended retained version of the GDPR, aka “UK GDPR”).

The nub of that piece was that the ICO (following the legal precedents) was now saying that “You should calculate the time limit from the day you receive the request“. Which was a change from the previous position that “You should calculate the time limit from the day after you receive the request “.

I have noticed, however, that, although the ICO website, in its UK GDPR guidance, maintains that the clock starts from the date of receipt, the guidance on “Law Enforcement Processing” (which relates to processing of personal data by competent authorities for law enforcement purposes under part 3 of the Data Protection Act 2018 (DPA), which implemented the Law Enforcement Directive) states that the time should be calculated

from the first day after the request was received

It’s not inconceivable (in fact I am given to understand it is relatively common) that a some controllers might receive a subject access request (or other data subject request) which must be dealt with under both the UK GDPR and the Law Enforcement Processing provisions (police forces are a good example of this). The ICO’s position means that the controller must calculate the response time as starting, on the one hand, on the date of receipt, and, on the other hand, on the day after the date of receipt.

And if all of this sounds a bit silly, and inconsequential, I would argue that it is certainly the former, but not necessarily the latter: failure to comply within a statutory timescale is a breach of a statutory duty, and therefore actionable, at least in principle. If the ICO really does believe that the timescale works differently under different legal schemes, then how, for instance can it properly determine (as it must, when required to) under Articles 57(1)(f) and 77(1) of the UK GDPR, or section 51(2) of the DPA, whether there has been a statutory infringement?

Statutory infringements are, after all, potentially actionable (in this instance either with regulatory action or private action by data subjects) – the ICO maintains a database of complaint cases and publishes some of this (albeit almost two years in arrears), and also uses (or may use) it to identify trends. If ICO finds that a controller has made a statutory infringement, that is a finding of potential significance: if that same finding is based on an unclear, and internally contradictory, interpretation of a key aspect of the law, then it is unlikely to be fair, and unlikely to be lawful.

The views in this post (and indeed most posts on this blog) are my personal ones, and do not represent the views of any organisation I am involved with.

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Filed under Data Protection, Data Protection Act 2018, GDPR, Information Commissioner, subject access, UK GDPR, Uncategorized

Litigation disclosure != subject access disclosure

I’m not a lawyer, yet alone a Scottish lawyer, but a recent judgment, on data protection matters, from Sheriff A Cubie in the Glasgow and Strathkelvin Sheriffdom has significance beyond Scotland (and, of course, data protection law – by which we mean the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), or from 1 January 2021, the UK GDPR, and the Data Protection Act 2018 (DPA) – apply across the UK).

The issue before the court was whether data protection obligations, which might in general militate against disclosure of personal data, override disclosure obligations in general court proceedings. The basic answer, and one that most data protection practitioners and lawyers understand, is that they don’t. Article 6(1)(c) of the GDPR makes clear that processing is lawful if it is necessary for compliance with a legal obligation to which a controller is subject. More specifically, paragraph 5 of Schedule Two to the DPA says that the bulk of the GDPR provisions conferring rights on data subjects and obligations on controllers simply “do not apply to personal data where disclosure of the data is required by an enactment, a rule of law or an order of a court or tribunal, to the extent that the application of those provisions would prevent the controller from making the disclosure.”

The Sheriff was faced with a situation [which sounds like a line from a Western] of possible contempt of court by an unnamed Scottish Council in social work referral proceedings concerning children. Upon receipt of an application (in Scottish law, a “motion for specification of documents”), which it had not opposed, the Council had disclosed social work records to solicitors for the mother in the proceedings, but subjected the records (apparently having received internal legal advice) to substantial redaction of personal data, of the sort which would have taken place if the records had been required to be disclosed under an Article 15 subject access request.

The Sheriff “invited” a senior Council officer and someone from its legal department to answer his enquiries as to how the redactions came to be made. At that hearing, it transpired that the disclosure exercise had been passed to the Council’s Data Protection Officer to deal with – that officer had sought advice from the Council’s legal department, which advised that the exercise should be treated as if it was redaction for the purposes of a subject access request. Before the court, the Council apologised unreservedly, and announced that it had begun an internal investigation into how it had happened.

Nothing earth-shattering, and this post is not to suggest that sometimes it might be necessary to redact personal data during litigation disclosure, but an interesting observation about the risks of confusing or conflating disclosure regimes.

And I end by noting that the Sheriff himself fell into error: he cites at several points, subject access provisions from part 3 of the DPA. Part 3 deals with law enforcement processing under Directive 2016/680, and has no relevance here. The subject access right emanates from, and is full described in, Article 15 GDPR.

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Filed under Data Protection, Data Protection Act 2018, GDPR, law enforcement

ICO SAR guidance – open to challenge?

A new piece by me and a colleague on the Mishcon de Reya website, about the ICO’s new SAR guidance https://www.mishcon.com/news/ico-guidance-on-subject-access-requests

A couple of NB points where this guidance differs from the draft version:

ICO suggests one of the factors to take into account when deciding whether a request is excessive is “Whether refusing to provide the information or even acknowledging it is held may cause substantive damage to the individual”. To me, this is pretty extraordinary, and might have the effect of putting the requester to proof as to damage caused by non-compliance.

ICO also has shifted its position, and suggest that staff time perse (rather than disbursements) might be charged for in the event of excessive or manifestly unfounded requests. 

I have my own views on whether these propositions are positive or negative. I suspect though that we will see challenges.

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ICO (bizarrely) suggests DPO conflict of interest is criminal offence

*UPDATE, 17.11.20: ICO has now “reissued” its FOI response, saying that there was an error in the original, and that section 31 (dealing, broadly, with prejudice to regulatory functions), rather than section 30, of FOIA applies. If this was a plain example of a typo, I would not have drawn attention, but the original response specifically showed that the author thought that criminality would arise in a case of DPO conflict of interest.

I would add two things. First, the exemption is still questionable in my view – I can’t see how disclosing whether organisations have been investigated regarding DPO conflicts (and if so, the numbers involved) could conceivably cause or be likely to cause prejudice to ICO’s regulatory functions. Second, I raised this, as NADPO chair, as a matter of concern with ICO, but, despite the withdrawal of the offending response, I have heard nothing yet. END UPDATE*

As chair of NADPO* (the National Association of Data Protection and Freedom of Information Officers) I’m understandably interested in information and news about data protection officers (DPOs). In particular, what the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) (as the regulatory body most DPOs will interact with) says on this subject will be especially notable.

When I saw that someone had made a Freedom of Information (FOI) request to the ICO about whether the latter had investigated or taken enforcement action against any controllers for reasons relating to potential conflict of interest regarding DPO positions, I was intrigued to see what the response would be (I knew no fines had been issued, but I wanted to know how many investigations might have taken place – indeed, I had blogged about the ICO’s own DPO role a few months previously).

However, the ICO’s response to the FOI request is, let’s say, odd. They have refused to disclose (in fact, have refused even to confirm or deny whether they hold) the requested information, citing the FOI exemption that applies to information held for the purposes of investigations into whether someone should be charged with a criminal offence: remarkably, the ICO seems to think that a conflict of interest such as envisaged by Article 38(6) of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) would amount to a criminal offence – “it is likely that, if proven, an offence under the DPA [Data Protection Act 2018] may have been committed”. This cannot be the case though – there are no offence provisions under the DPA which come close to criminalising a potential conflict of interest regarding a DPO role, and it would be extraordinary if parliament had decided to make it an offence.

Why the ICO should suggest that there are such provisions is not at all clear, and – if it is not just a stray error – might indicate a rather worrying lack of understanding of both data protection and FOI law.

One final point to note – even the part of the FOI response which didn’t mistakenly assume criminal law provisions were engaged, said, in respect of the part of the request which asked for any information the ICO holds “to assist public authorities protect [sic] against a conflict of interest with the role of the DPO”, that staff at the ICO had been consulted and “there is no information held”. However, on the ICO’s website, in plain view, is guidance on the subject (admittedly not in any detail, but clearly in scope of this request).

The views in this post (and indeed most posts on this blog) are my personal ones, and do not represent the views of any organisation I am involved with.

*I notice that the cookie notice on the NADPO site has somehow slipped into error – I am on the blower to our webdev as we speak.

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Filed under Data Protection, Data Protection Act 2018, DPO, Freedom of Information, GDPR, Information Commissioner, Uncategorized

An Uber-reaction in The Times

“Uber gives police private data on drivers and passengers” announces The Times(£) this morning.

In this post, much to my surprise (I have never taken an Uber, and don’t intend to – I don’t like their business model), I come to the defence of Uber.

A closer read of the Times piece reveals that what is being referred to, in documents filed with the High Court, in proceedings regarding TfL’s refusal to renew Uber’s licence, is requests to Uber from the police to disclose personal data for the purposes of the prevention and detection of crime or the apprehension or prosecution of offenders.

Such requests are commonly made to thousands of public authorities and private companies. They used to be known in data protection and police circles as “section 29 requests”, after the relevant section of the now-repealed Data Protection Act 1998. The term was a bit misleading: section 29, now replaced effectively by paragraph 2 of Schedule 2 to the Data Protection Act 2018, has the effect of disapplying the provisions of data protection law which would otherwise prevent the disclosure of personal data to the police (or others), and where not disclosing would be likely to prejudice the purposes of the prevention and detection of crime or the apprehension or prosecution of offenders. This is a necessary provision of data protection law, and provided that (as with all provisions) it is applied correctly and proportionately, it works very well: it gives controller the power to disclose personal data to the police where it is necessary for criminal justice.

If Uber are dealing with police requests appropriately, it is for the public good that personal data which assists the police to investigate drug transporting and human trafficking is made available to them.

In fact, I strongly suspect that The Times will receive such requests from the police. When the requests are related to the paper’s journalistic activities they are probably, and probably rightfully, refused, but they may well get requests in respect of their employees’ data, and I would be very surprised if they don’t sometimes – as a responsible company – comply with these.

Transport for London certainly receives such requests. Indeed, as a public authority, under its transparency measures, it has habitually made statistics on this public. The most recent publication I can find shows that 2012 to 2017 TfL received an average of approximately 10,000 requests each year.

Will The Times now report that TfL is handing over to the police thousands of pieces of intelligence on members of the public each year?

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Filed under Data Protection, Data Protection Act 2018, data sharing, police