Open letter on data breaches and the imbalance of power

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“Recent weeks have seen media coverage of a number of data breach issues: the court case against a former employee of Health and Social Care accused of accessing people’s medical records; an elected member of the States of Guernsey had a code of conduct complaint upheld relating to the loss of a parishioner’s sensitive paperwork; and most recently our office released statistics showing an increase in reported local personal data breaches.

Invariably, the public and media do not have access to all the details surrounding each breach and the real harms they often cause. Data protection cases, by their very nature, often involve a significant amount of highly personal and confidential information which isn’t ever made public. The focus, therefore, is often on the individual or organisation responsible for the breach and it is frequently only their side of the story which is heard. As the regulator of the local data protection law, we are bound by strict confidentiality standards. However, we would wish to highlight this imbalance. All those involved have a right to be heard, to be treated fairly and ethically, and to have their rights respected. An imbalance can occur when certain powerful groups or individuals have a platform, when others do not.

Our local law is clear – it exists to protect the individual from harms due to misuse of their personal data. And make no mistake, the harms that can be caused by data being compromised are very real. Anyone with first-hand experience will tell you it is not an overstatement to say that mishandling personal data can ruin lives, ruin careers, ruin reputations, and destroy organisations. Wider international conversations about the potential individual and social harms of data misuse are testament to this.

We would like to reassure everyone in the Bailiwick that we are here to empower individuals and to protect their legal rights as much as we are here to support active engagement and compliance by industry. We want to ensure everyone has a voice and is respected regardless of the power or status of the individual or organisation who may have mishandled data. Protection of data is not a luxury, it is an essential part of living a dignified life in a democracy.”

– Emma Martins
Data Protection Commissioner 

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The text above was submitted for consideration to the Letters page of our local newspapers The Guernsey Press and Bailiwick Express on 17 March 2019.