Does David Cameron take people’s privacy seriously? Here’s a test

I’ve previously blogged about Conservative MP Ian Liddell-Grainger’s decision to publish personal data about someone without their consent and despite them warning him about his behaviour:

The origin of the dispute rests with butterflies, with the MP having taken great exception to a local pro-butterfly organisation seeking public money. Christopher Foster emailed the MP to disagree, making a few pungent comments of his own. The MP responded by publishing Mr Foster’s email in full, including his personal email address.

Given that under data protection law people’s email addresses are personal data, for an MP to publish without consent someone’s contact details in this way is rather unwise and certainly unusual.

Mr Foster then wrote in to object to the publication of his email on the website. The letter contained a reminder and warning against abusing data protection laws by publishing people’s personal contact details without consent, and included an explicit request for his personal data to be removed from the MP’s website.

The MP’s reaction to this? The letter was published in full on Ian Liddell-Grainger’s website – including publishing this time Mr Foster’s home address.

Responding to a complaint about personal data being published by publishing further personal data about that person is even more unusual and even more unwise.

It also runs counter to the MP’s own privacy statement: “your personal details (i.e. your name and contact details) will not be shared without your permission”.

Since then, some of the local press have been on to him, and Ian Liddell-Grainger has come up with a remarkably cavalier response:

Mr Liddell-Grainger told the Mercury: “I haven’t had a direct complaint. All I have done is reproduce a letter on a website.

“The letter wasn’t marked ‘Private and Confidential’ or for my eyes only. He is not a constituent of mine – I have never breached a constituent’s trust.

Cavalier – because Ian Liddell-Grainger did not just “reproduce a letter”. On receiving a complaint about him having published someone’s personal data, he responded by publishing on his website further personal data. And no, the law respecting personal data does not only apply if someone writes ‘Private and Confidential’. And yes, the law does apply to a Conservative MP just as much as to everyone else.

What’s worse – far worse in fact – is that of course people write to their MPs with all sorts of private, personal information related to casework. It’s both foolish and illegal to think all that information is free for an MP to publish unless the person has written ‘Private and Confidential’ on the letter.

The tone of Ian Liddell-Grainger’s response to this local paper matched that of his response to another, which ended, “The Liberal Democrats can go to hell”. Not exactly the response of someone contrite about their behaviour.

So here’s a little poser for the Prime Minister, and head of Ian Liddell-Grainger’s party. In all the talk about online snooping, the Prime Minister has said that protecting people’s privacy is important.

If it is really important to him, what is he going to do about one of his own MPs taking such a cavalier, unapologetic and sustained approach to flagrantly breaching people’s personal privacy?

 

One footnote: Two weeks on from being asked, Ian Liddell-Grainger has still declined to provide an explanation as to why his website claims it is paid for by him personally but the official Parliamentary expense records show that he has claimed taxpayers’ money to pay for it.

* Mark Pack is Party President and Co-leader of the party. He is editor of Liberal Democrat Newswire.

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5 Comments

  • Luke Richards 10th Apr '12 - 8:59am

    Answer me this: How long until the right of recall comes in?

  • There’s a distinct and nauseating sense of “the elite versus the peasants” in this instance. The elite, of course, have an absolute right to privacy. The “peasants” can expect no such protection. This is where the distinction between the Liberal and Conservative point of view becomes quite sharp: the Liberal perspective suggests we all have rights, the Conservative believes that special rights accrue to a natural aristocracy.

    All told, it’s going to take more than a hot shower and a lot of soap to wash off the filth accrued by the proximity of Coalition.

  • The one caveat here is that it appears the correspondent wasn’t writing to his own MP, so the argument about confidentiality between an MP and constituent does not apply. However, the assurance given on his website ought to mean something, even for those writing simply to express their opinion from outside the constituency (Bridgewater and West Somerset, in case anyone wondered). Black mark for Mr Liddell-Granger from the IC, I suspect. Mind you, he still won his seat at the last election, despite the embarrassment of being caught emailing himself to improve his rating on witetothem.com, so I doubt a ticking off from the IC will have much effect on his career.

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