Secret Infractions

February 23, 2011

I admire the persistence of Dr Chris Pounder of Amberhawk Training. Chris has revealed in his {Hawktalk blog:} that he has finally accessed information from the EU Commission after years of trying. You will recall that the EU Commission has for some time been threatening to take infraction proceedings against the UK for failures to implement EU data protection properly. Chris has got information shedding some light on what it is about UK data protection law that has upset them. It took only seven years to get it.

I admire Chris but confess that I do not envy him – not least because his experience has nasty echoes of more mundane experiences of my own. Anyone who has been married for a small fraction of the time that I have will be familiar with the ‘what’s wrong, what have I done?’ conversation. It begins with the sweet and cajoling ‘I know you are not happy about something’ slides on, sometimes for days, until one finally gets a response of ‘I think you know what you have done’ and then descends rapidly through exploration of the additional sin of not knowing what’s wrong and then hits the wall of the revelation of your latest infraction and (unless you are very lucky) every little (and big) thing that you have done wrong. On discovering that you even have annoying toes, you invariably look back on the original enquiry and regret it.

But there can be few partners that have gone seven years without revealing what’s wrong. The EU Commission has taken the art of revealing the fact of infraction, but not revealing the cause, to a whole new level.

There are serious issues here and, most worryingly, they may reveal attitudes within the EU Commission that are unacceptable in 21st century society – where we are constantly searching for greater transparency. As Chris Pounder states in his blog, the infractions that have been revealed ‘were the deficiencies that were identified by the Commission in 2004 …. Quite frankly, it is unacceptable for the detail of this list of problems to have been kept secret for seven years. In respect of individual privacy, the Commission and the then New Labour Government have given 60,000,000 UK data subjects a collective V-sign. The [document from the EU] does not comprise state secrets. In “liberating” these details, the Commission has required me to exhibit an obsessive behaviour on the autistic spectrum; they have delayed wherever possible, required me to endlessly chase them up, and provided bogus arguments in order to stop the release of these details.’

So hats off to Chris Pounder for getting some information on this and for exposing a real problem as well as the information. But I am so glad that was not a route that I went down.