A States Member has been reprimanded by the Data Protection watchdog in Guernsey for secretly taping a conversation on his phone.
Kevin Gentle was the subject of a complaint to the Data Protection Authority last year by an unnamed member of the public.
According to the DPA Mr Gentle collected personal data by covertly recording a private conversation during a meeting between himself and the complainant. The complainant had arranged the meeting to raise concerns regarding a particular ongoing building project and the management of that project.
Mr Gentle disclosed the data to a third party who passed it on to an industry governing body. They then used the data to launch an investigation into the action of the complainant. They found no breach had taken place.
The complainant however, alerted to the fact that data relating to him had been shared, considered Deputy Gentle’s actions to have breached his rights and brought his name into disrepute within the business industry.
The DPA found that Mr Gentle had committed a breach of The Data Protection (Bailiwick of Guernsey) Law, 2017
In a public statement the DPA said: ‘The Authority does not dispute the assertion by [Kevin] Gentle that his actions stemmed from a desire to act in the best interests of the public position he holds.
‘However, the Authority considers that the same result could have been obtained by recording contemporaneous notes at the meeting or by being open with the complainant and seeking prior agreement to carry out an audio recording.’
After investigating the DPA determined that Mr Gentle had breached the Law in relation to the unauthorised collection and disclosure of personal data and issued him with a reprimand.
In a public statement they said the censure reflected the nature and circumstances of the breach, adding:
‘The finding also reflects the positive and constructive engagement by…[Mr] Gentle throughout the investigation and his willingness to learn lessons from this experience.’
The DPA however expressed concerns that despite the Data Protection legislation being passed into Alderney, politicians may not fully understand its significance.
‘The Authority acknowledges that appropriate States of Alderney policies were in place which prohibited such data collection practices but were not complied with in this instance.
‘The Authority is however, concerned that this matter highlights a general lack of understanding of the Law by elected public representatives and the importance of looking after data, which can often be highly sensitive and confidential. Individuals have a right to expect the highest standards of conduct from those elected to represent them.
Mr Gentle apologised for his actions.
‘In my desire to protect the integrity of the Project Manager I failed to comply with Section 72 of the Law, and I apologise for breaching it.
‘I obviously fell short of what is expected of me but I am grateful to the ODPA for their decision, and their highlighting of where I went wrong.
‘I am finally pleased that this matter has now been dealt with.
The Bailiwick’s Data Protection Commissioner, Emma Martins, said those in public office inevitibly faced greater scrutiny of their actions.
‘ It is therefore the case that their conduct must at all times reflect the significant responsibilities of the role and the importance of engendering a trust and confidence in them across the community they serve.
‘[Mr Gentle] recognises that he fell short on this occasion and we are grateful for the open and honest manner in which he engaged with us. This case highlights how important it is not only to ensure policies and procedures around data handling are fit for purpose, but that they are also communicated effectively and complied with.’