Monday, 7 June 2010

Department For Regional Development - A Data Protection 'Lapse'

Error of Judgement or a Breach of the Law?

In the above correspondence, Keith Walsh is an official in DRDNI's Ports and Transport Division, Mary and CĂ­aran O Driscoll are directors of Rathlin Island Ferry Limited (RIFL), Joanne Moody of Stewart Solicitors acted as a legal representative for RIFL and Jonny Barnes was the former Engineering and Business Manager for Rathlin Ferries Ltd (RFL) who transferred to RIFL on 1 July 2008 under a TUPE agreement.

Having failed to get a positive response from RIFL management about certain issues pertaining to the safe operation of the ferry service Barnes raised them in an email to Walsh in the expectation that his concerns would be dealt with in a professional manner and within the terms of the long standing Data Protection Act. He also copied them to the Health and Safety Executive for Northern Ireland as a particular safety issue related to HSENI rather than to the Maritime and Coastguard Agency.

Walsh could have raised these concerns directly with RIFL directors but instead chose to copy the Barnes email to M O Driscoll, a RIFL director. This action revealed personal data and, according to the as yet unscrutinised 'independent' investigations report, C O Driscoll viewed the Barnes email as a complaint against RIFL [section 7.6.5]

“personal data” means data which relate to a living individual who can be identified—
(a)from those data, or
(b)from those data and other information which is in the possession of, or is likely to come into the possession of, the data controller,  ... [Data Protection Act, 1998]

Section 55 of the 1998 DPA deals with the consequences of knowingly or recklessly revealing personal data without consent.

Walsh might also like to reflect on Article 8 of the European Convention of Human Rights as the Barnes email was prepared and despatched from home:

Article 8 – Right to respect for private and family life

1. Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence.
2. There shall be no interference by a public authority with the exercise of this right except such as is in accordance with the law and is necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security, public safety or the economic well-being of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.

Why also did Walsh copy the email to and seek related advice from Joanne Moody, a solicitor acting for RIFL?

 The above correspondence also highlights RIFL's somewhat peculiar management style. Why was the engineering and business manager delegated to 'hoovering and making coffee' and why was he not supplied with a computer to carry out his professional duties? Does this style operate in reverse? Does the person who hoovers and makes coffee also get to drive the ferry, especially when the directors are absent for weeks at a time?