data protection


The Tale of the Black Spider: The Supreme Court speaks

27 March 2015 by

Photo credit: The Guardian

Matthew Flinn

And so, the long legal saga of the Black Spider Letters finally comes to a close.

I last blogged about this case back in October 2012. At that time, the Attorney General had ignited controversy by invoking a little-known power under section 53 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA).

Under that provision, he issued a certificate which effectively vetoed a decision of the Upper Tribunal that a number of items of correspondence sent by Prince Charles to seven Government Departments (characterised as “advocacy correspondence” as opposed to personal letters) had to be disclosed to Mr Rob Evans of the Guardian newspaper.

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Public protest, private rights

6 March 2015 by

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John Catt. Photo credit: The Guardian

R (Catt) and R (T) v Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis [2015] UKSC 9

A majority of the Supreme Court has held that the retention by police of information on the Domestic Extremism Database about a 91 year-old activist’s presence at political protests was (1) in accordance with the law and (2) a proportionate interference with his right to a private life under Article 8(1) of the ECHR.

However, Lord Toulson’s dissent noted that the information was retained for many years after Mr Catt had attended these mainstream political events, and the police had concluded that he was not known to have acted violently. Accordingly, he thought its retention was unnecessary and disproportionate.

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Operation Cotton, War Crime and the Right to be Forgotten – the Human Rights Roundup

22 May 2014 by

Right to be forgotten HRRWelcome back to the UK Human Rights Roundup, your regular lightening rod of human rights news and views. The full list of links can be found here. You can find previous roundups here. Links compiled by Adam Wagner, post by Celia Rooney.

In recent human rights news, the ECJ finds against Internet giant Google, strengthening the so-called ‘right to be forgotten’. In other news, the UK awaits to see if it will be prosecuted before the ICC in relation to allegations of war crimes in Iraq, while the Court of Appeal confronts the issue of legal aid cuts in serious fraud cases as the Operation Cotton scandal continues.

In the News
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Disclosure of medical records breached patient’s human rights – Strasbourg

30 April 2014 by

Hospital-BedL.H. v Latvia [2014] ECHR 453 (29 April 2014) – read judgment

The release of confidential patient details to a state medical institution in the course of her negotiations with a hospital over a lawsuit was an unjustified interference with her right to respect for private life under Article 8.

Background

In 1997 the applicant gave birth at a state hospital in Cēsis. Caesarean section was used, with the applicant’s consent, because uterine rupture had occurred during labour. In the course of that surgery the surgeon performed tubal ligation (surgical contraception) without the applicant’s consent.

In 2005, after her attempt to achieve an out-of-court settlement with the hospital had failed, the applicant initiated civil proceedings against the hospital, seeking to recover damages for the unauthorised tubal ligation. In December of 2006 her claim was upheld and she was awarded compensation in the amount of 10,000 Latvian lati for the unlawful sterilisation.
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There is no right ‘to be forgotten’ by internet search engines

1 July 2013 by

google-sign-9Case C-131/12: Google Spain SL & Google Inc. v Agencia Española de Protección de Datos (AEPD) & Mario Costeja González – read Opinion of AG Jääskinen

This reference to the European Court of Justice (CJEU) concerned the application of the 1995 Data Protection Directive  to the operation of internet search engines. Apart from demonstrating the many complications thrown up by this convoluted and shortsighted piece of regulation, this case raises the fascinating question of the so-called right to be forgotten, and the issue of whether data subjects can request that some or all search results concerning them are no longer accessible through search engine.

All of these questions are new to the Court.
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Who “holds” the working papers of the Climategate inquiry?

7 May 2013 by

emailgate_mockup_k_SMLHolland v. Information Commissioner & University of East Anglia, First Tier Tribunal, 29 April 2013  – read judgment

In 2009 someone hacked into e-mails belonging to the Climate Research Unit at UEA and leaked them widely. Climate change sceptics whooped with delight because they thought that the e-mails showed attempts to suppress or gerrymander climate data (see e.g. this example from James Delingpole with some of the ticklish e-mails, and for more background, less tendentiously put, my post on an earlier UEA case). And the CRU data was important; it had made its way into the highly influential IPCC reports.

UEA understandably thought that something needed doing in response to the leaks, and commissioned an inquiry, the Independent Climate Change E-mail Review. ICCER reported in 2010: see here for the report and here for a short summary. ICCER  concluded that there had not been any systematic manipulation of data, though there had been a lack of openness by CRU in dealing with requests for information. 

This recent decision concerns a campaigner’s efforts to get copies of the working papers of the Review. The First Tier Tribunal (as the Information Commissioner before it) refused to order UEA to produce them.  UEA did not “hold” them, ICCER did. And ICCER was not a public authority capable of being ordered to produce them.

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Retention and disclosure of police caution data infringe Article 8 – Charles Bourne

15 November 2012 by

M.M. v United Kingdom (Application no. 24029/07) – read judgment

The European Court of Human Rights yesterday handed down a Chamber judgment in declaring that the arrangements for the indefinite retention of data relating to a person’s caution in a criminal matter and for the disclosure of such data in criminal record checks infringe Article 8 of the ECHR.

Although the Court recognised that there might be a need for a comprehensive record of data relating to criminal matters, the indiscriminate and open-ended collection of criminal record data was unlikely to comply with Article 8 in the absence of clear and detailed statutory regulations clarifying the safeguards applicable and governing the use and disposal of such data, particularly bearing in mind the amount and sensitivity of the data.

The case arose from a family dispute in Northern Ireland in the course of which the applicant, a grandmother, took her grandson away from his parents for two days before returning him unharmed. This resulted in her receiving a caution for child abduction in November 2000. In 2003 the police advised her that her caution would remain on record for only five years, i.e. until 2005. However, following the Soham murders and the Bichard report, there was a change of policy whereby any convictions and cautions where the victim was a child would be kept on record for the offender’s lifetime. 
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Police retention of photographs unlawful, High Court rules

27 June 2012 by

The Queen, on the application of (1) RMC and (2) FJ – and – Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis. Read judgment.

Liberal societies tend to view the retention of citizens’ private information by an arm of the state, without individuals’ consent, with suspicion. Last week, the High Court ruled that the automatic retention of photographs taken on arrest – even where the there is no prosecution, or the person is acquitted – for at least six years was an unlawful interference with the right to respect for private life of Article 8 of the ECHR, as enshrined in the Human Rights Act.

The case was brought by two individuals. One, known as RMC, was arrested for assault occasioning actual bodily harm after she was stopped riding a cycle on a footpath. The second, known as FJ, was arrested on suspicion of rape of his second cousin at the age of 12. In both cases, the individuals voluntarily attended the police station, where they were interviewed, fingerprinted and photographed and DNA samples were taken form them, but the CPS decided not to prosecute.

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Retention of data on octogenarian protester “amply justified”

31 May 2012 by

Catt v Commissioner of the Police of the Metropolis [2012] EWHC 1471 (Admin) – read judgment

Retention of data on a national database of material relating to a protester’s attendance at demonstrations by a group that had a history of violence, criminality and disorder, did not engage Article 8 of the Human Rights Convention.

The claimant, now aged 87, applied for judicial review of the decision of the defendants to retain data, seeking an order that, as he had not himself been engaged in criminality, any reference to him should be deleted from the allegedly unlawfully retained material.

 Background

 The data in issue was essentially comprised of records (or reports) made by police officers overtly policing demonstrations of a group known as “Smash EDO”, which carried out a long-running campaign calling for the closure of a US owned arms company carrying on a lawful business in the United Kingdom. Disorder and criminality had been a feature of a number of the protests along with harassment of the company’s staff. The defendant authority had retained data relating to the claimant’s attendance at various political protests on the National Domestic Extremism Database, and maintained by the National Public Order Intelligence Unit.
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Was it human rights wot won the phone hacking scandal?

12 July 2011 by

2011 may be remembered as the year of Article 8. The public may not realise it, but the two major news stories of this year have had at their core the 8th article of the European Convention on Human Rights, the right to privacy and family life. And without this controversial law, the phone-hacking scandal may never have been exposed.

First came the super-injunctions scandal, in which the public, egged on by the popular press, became enraged at sportsmen using expensive privacy injunctions to keep details of their alleged bad behaviour out of the news. That scandal has now been replaced by a much bigger one, relating to illegal phone hacking. The affair has already led to the demise of the News of the World.

As the human rights organisation Liberty have pointed out, the newspaper was never a fan of New Labour’s Human Rights Act. Amongst other things, it fought an expensive and partially successful privacy battle against Max Mosley over claims that he slept with prostitutes in a “sick Nazi orgy“. It has always been suspected that the tabloid press’s almost universal antipathy towards the 1998 Act, which in theory at least should be popular as it protects citizens against nasty state intrusion, was inspired by the fear that the privacy rights it bolstered, despite the competing right to freedom of expression, would prevent them doing their jobs. And now, with some irony, it is a tabloid newspaper and not a public authority which may represent the 1998 Act’s most high-profile scalp.

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DNA case analysis: The mystery of the missing purpose

24 May 2011 by

We reported last week the Supreme Court ruling in R (on the application of GC) (FC) (Appellants) v The Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis (Respondent) in which the majority found that they could interpret the DNA retention provision in the Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE) in such a way that it would be compatible with article 8 of the ECHR.

Not only that; the Court concluded that such a reading could still promote the statutory purposes: ” Those purposes can be achieved by a proportionate scheme.”

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Wikileaks and the arrest of Julian Assange

8 December 2010 by

Updated | Wikileaks founder Julian Assange was arrested yesterday and refused bail after a hearing at Westminster Magistrates Court.

He was not arrested in relation to the whistle-blowing website Wikileaks, but rather on suspicion of having sexually assaulted two women in Sweden. His lawyers have said that “many believe” the arrest was politically motivated.

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Spying on school parents was unlawful and breach of human rights

3 August 2010 by

Worth lying for?

(1) MS JENNY PATON (2) C2 (3) C3 (4) C4 (5) C5 and POOLE BOROUGH COUNCIL, Investigatory Powers Tribunal – Read ruling

The Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT) has ruled that a local council acted unlawfully in spying repeatedly on parents suspected of lying about where they lived in order to get their child into a sought after school. The ruling may not, however, prevent local authorities from spying on families for similar reasons in the future.

The IPT exists to investigate complaints about conduct by various public bodies, including in relation to surveillance under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA). Section 28 of RIPA allows a public body to apply to conduct direct surveillance if the authorisation is necessary on various grounds, including the detection of crime.

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Medical records not as private as they may first appear under human rights law

28 May 2010 by

General Dental Council v Rimmer [2010] EWHC 1049 (Admin) (15 April 2010) – Read judgment

A dentist has been ordered to hand over his patients’ medical records to a court in order to help his regulator prosecute him for misconduct. The case raises interesting questions of when the courts can override patient confidentiality which would otherwise be protected by the Human Rights Act.

When health professionals are being prosecuted for misconduct,their patients’ confidential records will almost invariably be disclosed to the court if requested, even without the patients’ consent. Some may find this surprising, given the fact that medical records almost invariably contain highly private and potentially embarrassing information which a person would justifiably not want disclosed in a public court. However, the situation is not as simple as it first appears, as demonstrated by the recent case of an allegedly dodgy dentist.


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