Data protection & article 8 – a smorgasbord of information law news stories…

A number of interesting news stories engaging information law principles have been hitting the headlines over the last couple of days. First, the Communities Secretary, Eric Pickles, has issued a report condemning the excessive use of surveillance powers by public authorities under RIPA, including local authorities and others (you can read about the report in this Guardian article). Second, the Guardian has reported on information obtained from the Metropolitan Police under FOIA which apparently reveals that around 14m Metropolitan Police intelligence reports and 38m intelligence reports from other forces are being made available to all of Britain’s police agencies on the Police National Database. The reports evidently contain information about not only about convicted offenders but also about individuals who have never been charged or convicted of any crime (see the article here and see further on this issue my post in June of this year on the retention of police custody photos). Third, there has today been discussion in the media of the Legal Services Ombudsman’s decision to publish online the names of solicitors and barristers where either ‘a pattern of complaints’ has emerged in respect of a particular lawyer or where publication is otherwise ‘in the public interest’ (see further today’s Radio 4 ‘You and Yours’ programme where the LSO spelled out his policy on this issue – you can find the programme here; go to the 21st minute of the programme).

Whilst ostensibly disparate in nature, all of these stories raise a common information law question, namely whether the measures which have been adopted by these various public authorities accord with the rights of individuals under the Data Protection Act 1998 (DPA) and Article 8 ECHR. Answering this question entails consideration of a number of different issues including not least whether the particular measure serves a legitimate aim and also importantly whether it constitutes a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim (in the case of public authority surveillance further important questions will also arise under RIPA).What all of these stories confirm is a point which will not be news to information lawyers, namely that information law issues have an increasing resonance in debates over the ways in which public authorities operate.

Anya Proops