MHKs claim victory on data protection

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A Tynwald scrutiny committee is claiming a data protection victory.

After a two-and-a-half-hour debate in April last year, Tynwald rejected the findings and conclusions of an investigation by the social affairs policy review committee into the centralised pupil database introduced by the Department of Education and Children.

The committee had called for work on the database to be halted as there was a risk the DEC could be holding information to which it is not legally entitled.

But its chairman Brenda Cannell told Tynwald last week that after the report’s findings were rejected last year, the acting Attorney General and data protection supervisor Iain McDonald had agreed to meet – and had accepted that better regulations were need on the exchange of information between head teachers and the department.

‘So in fact the recommendation has now been accepted by both sides,’ she said.

Education Minister Tim Crookall seconded her motion calling for the regulations under section 16 of the Education Act to be brought forward without delay, saying the DEC ‘readily accepted that recommendation’.

Speaker Steve Rodan described the situation as a ‘very satisfying example of a Tynwald scrutiny committee working man hours for the common good and the good of government’.

He said that the legal authority by which a government department chooses to collect data might seem to many a very obscure topic.

The Speaker said nobody had a quibble with the fact that the DEC needed to collect the data for good reasons of planning. But departments had to have the correct vires to do so and should not be allowed to slip policy in under the radar without any public debate.

‘This was a policy that came in absolutely under the radar - nobody knew anything about it,’ he told the court.

The pupil database was trialled in two schools in December 2011 with the aim of assessing pupil achievements and needs and help ensure scarce resources are used where they are needed most.

Set-up cost of the system was £267,000 with the annual running cost estimated at £44,000.

But civil liberties campaigners expressed concern about the holding of sensitive personal information on a central database.

And giving evidence to the scrutiny committee, data protection supervisor Iain McDonald suggested that without changes to existing legislation, processing personal data in the attendance and admission registers may contravene the Data Protection Act.

The committee described his findings as ‘alarming’.

Initially, however, the DEC dismissed the report’s findings which is said were ‘only alarming if they are correct and based on the advice we have, they are not.’

It said the legal advice it had obtained concluded that no further legislative powers were required.

But it agreed to halt development of other forms of reporting until this matter is resolved.

Mrs Cannell told Tynwald last week: ‘I wish we had been at one a year ago.’

She said the rejection of the report’s findings last April had been ‘quite a disservice and insult to the work of the committee’.

The court voted unanimously to accept her motion, with 21 votes in favour in the House of Keys and nine in the Legislative Council.

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