Around this time last year I wrote two blog posts about two separate police forces’ decision to tweet the names of drivers charged (but not – yet, at least – convicted) of drink driving offences. In the latter example Staffordshire police were actually using a hashtag #drinkdriversnamedontwitter, and I argued that
If someone has merely been charged with an offence, it is contrary to the ancient and fundamental presumption of innocence to shame them for that fact. Indeed, I struggle to understand how it doesn’t constitute contempt of court to do so, or to suggest that someone who has not been convicted of drink-driving is a drink driver. Being charged with an offence does not inevitably lead to conviction. I haven’t been able to find statistics relating to drink-driving acquittals, but in 2010 16% of all defendants dealt with by magistrates’ courts were either acquitted or not proceeded against
The Information Commissioner’s Office investigated whether there had been a breach of the first principle of Schedule One of the Data Protection Act 1998 (DPA), which requires that processing of personal data be “fair and lawful”, but decided to take no action after Staffs police agreed not to use the hashtag again, saying
Our concern was that naming people who have only been charged alongside the label ‘drink-driver’ strongly implies a presumption of guilt for the offence. We have received reassurances from Staffordshire Police the hashtag will no longer be used in this way and are happy with the procedures they have in place. As a result, we will be taking no further action.
But my first blog post had raised questions about whether the mere naming of those charged was in accordance with the same DPA principle. Newspaper articles talked of naming and “shaming”, but where is the shame in being charged with an offence? I wondered why Sussex police didn’t correct those newspapers who attributed the phrase to them.
And this year, Sussex police, as well as neighbouring Surrey, and Somerset and Avon are doing the same thing: naming drivers charged with drink driving offences on twitter or elsewhere online. The media happily describe this as a “naming and shaming” tactic, and I have not seen the police disabusing them, although Sussex police did at least enter into a dialogue with me and others on twitter, in which they assured us that their actions were in pursuit of open justice, and that they were not intending to shame people. However, this doesn’t appear to tally with the understanding of the Sussex Police and Crime Commissioner who said earlier this year
I am keen to find out if the naming and shaming tactic that Sussex Police has adopted is actually working
But I also continue to question whether the practice is in accordance with police forces’ obligations under the DPA. Information relating to the commission or alleged commission by a person of an offence is that person’s sensitive personal data, and for processing to be fair and lawful a condition in both of Schedule Two and, particularly, Schedule Three must be met. And I struggle to see which Schedule Three condition applies – the closest is probably
The processing is necessary…for the administration of justice
while the adjective “necessary”, within the meaning of article 10(2) [of the European Convention on Human Rights] is not synonymous with “indispensable”, neither has it the flexibility of such expressions as “admissible”, “ordinary”, “useful”, “reasonable” or “desirable” and that it implies the existence of a “pressing social need.”
should reflect the meaning attributed to it by the European Court of Human Rights when justifying an interference with a recognised right, namely that there should be a pressing social need and that the interference was both proportionate as to means and fairly balanced as to ends
This is another tool in our campaign to stop people driving while under the influence of drink or drugs. If just one person is persuaded not to take to the road as a result, then it is worthwhile as far as we are concerned.
and Sussex police’s Chief Inspector Natalie Moloney says
I hope identifying all those who are to appear in court because of drink or drug driving will act as a deterrent and make Sussex safer for all road users
which firstly fails to use the word “alleged” before “drink or drug driving”, and secondly – as Supt Corrigan – suggests the purpose of naming is not to promote open justice, but rather to deter drink drivers.
Deterring drink driving is certainly a worthy public aim (and I stress that I have no sympathy whatsoever with those convicted of such offences) but should the sensitive personal data of who have not been convicted of any offence be used to their detriment in pursuance of that aim?
I worry that unless such naming practices are scrutinised, and challenged when they are unlawful and unfair, the practice will spread, and social “shame” will be encouraged to be visited on the innocent. I hope the Information Commissioner investigates.
The views in this post (and indeed all posts on this blog) are my personal ones, and do not represent the views of any organisation I am involved with.
A paralegal has been convicted for taking client data with him when he left his role. Douglas Carswell MP denies taking Tory Party data, but what of his civil obligations with the data he has retained?
I blogged recently about the data protection implications of the news that Douglas Carswell MP was resigning his seat and seeking re-election as a UKIP MP. I mused on the fact that UKIP were reported to be “purring” over the data he was bringing with him, and I questioned whether, if this was personal data of constituents, his processing was compliant with his obligations under the Data Protection Act 1998. Paul Bernal blogged as well, and Paul was quoted in a subsequent article in The Times (which now seems to have been moved, or removed), in which Carswell defended himself against allegations of illegality
“Any data that the Conservative Party gathered while I was a member of the Conservative party is, was and must remain the property of the Conservative party.” He said that the suggestion that he had taken such information was “desperate briefing from within the Tory machine” and was extremely regrettable. The former MP did say, however, that he planned to use his own private data gathered during nine years as a Conservative MP. He insisted that he would not be sharing this with UKIP
With respect to Mr Carswell, this still doesn’t convince me that no data protection concerns exist. If by his “own private data”, he means information about constituents which is their personal data, then I would still argue that such use could potentially be in contravention of his civil obligations under the first and second principles in Schedule One to the Data Protection Act 1998. As I said previously
If constituents have given Carswell their details on the basis that it would be processed as part of his constituency work as a Conservative MP they might rightly be aggrieved if that personal data were then used by him in pursuit of his campaign as a UKIP candidate
Even if he didn’t share such data with UKIP, data protection obligations would clearly be engaged.
It seems to me that his quote to The Times was perhaps to refute any possible allegations that his use of data was criminal. A recent prosecution by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) illustrates how taking personal data from one job, or one role, to another, without the consent of the data controller, can be a criminal offence. The offender was a paralegal at a Yorkshire solicitor’s practice who, before he left the firm, emailed himself (presumably to a private address) information, in the form of workload lists, file notes and template documents. However, the information also contained the personal data of over 100 clients of the firm. Accordingly, he was convicted of the offence at section 55 of the DPA, of (in terms) unlawfully obtaining personal data without the consent of the data controller. The fine was, as they tend to be for section 55 offences, small – £300, plus a £30 victim surcharge and £438.63 prosecution costs – but the offender’s future job prospects in the legal sector might be adversely affected.
The ICO’s Head of Enforcement Steve Eckersley is quoted, and though he talks in terms of “employees”, his words might well be equally applicable to people leaving elected posts
Employees may think work related documents that they have produced or worked on belong to them and so they are entitled to take them when they leave. But if they include people’s details, then taking them without permission is breaking the law
Mr Carswell was wise not to retain data for which the Conservative Party was data controller. But I’m still not sure about the (non-criminal) implications of his use of data for which he is data controller.