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Our View: On personal data, common sense is out the window

Personal data protection commissioner Irene Loizidou Nicolaidou

Protection of personal data is fast becoming an obstacle to enforcing law and order. It is used much too often to prevent the authorities from battling crime and punishing law-breakers. Judges on countless occasions have thrown out cases on the grounds that evidence presented at a trial violated personal data. Perhaps a judge was obliged, under the law, to do so, but it still seems absurd that an offender can avoid punishment because the evidence provided is considered a violation of personal data.

Several years ago, Strovolos municipality ordered its traffic wardens to photograph cars illegally parked on the pavements, because car owners were denying they had committed the offence and refusing to pay the fine. A judge ruled that the photograph could not be used as evidence as it was a violation of personal data! It was an astonishing decision, indicating there was either something seriously wrong with the law or that the judge had interpreted it wrongly. Respect for human rights should not be used to protect law-breakers.

A couple of days ago Personal Data Commissioner Irini Loizidou-Nicolaidou stopped the selling of tickets for high-risk matches to away fans through the Cyprus Football Association’s website because too much personal data was required. Having personal details of fans buying tickets was one of the methods to be used to tackle the growing violence at football matches. Clubs already had records of home fans buying tickets and there was never an issue about personal data. In the end, a compromise was found on Thursday whereby less data would be provided (ID number and email address), while all the information would be deleted within 96 hours. This way of selling tickets will stop once the much-talked about fan’s ID card is finally introduced, assuming it does not violate personal data.

People refusing or unable to repay their bank loans have also tried to use personal data protection. According to Ms Loizidou-Nicolaidou, citizens have written to her asking whether the passing on of personal data by a bank selling a loan portfolio to an investor is unlawful. She said banks are entitled to do this, but it will be no surprise if a bank is taken to court for allegedly violating personal data by selling a non-performing loan to a company specialising in recoveries; and it would be no surprise if a judge ruled that it was indeed a violation.

Should we mention the other absurdity of fining presidential candidates for sending campaign text messages, because this is a violation of privacy? That recipients would take the trouble to file a complaint to the commissioner instead of just deleting the message defies belief. It is in line with the general principle that when it comes to personal data protection, common sense goes out the window.

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