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Our View: Interpretation of privacy laws is absurd

Personal data protection commissioner Irene Loizidou Nicolaidou

The commissioner for the protection of personal data has imposed hefty fines, totalling €82,000, on three companies, belonging to the same group, for trying to monitor employees’ sick leave. The commissioner found that the use of a programme to monitor and manage the sick leave of some 800 employees was a violation of privacy laws.

A report issued by the commissioner, Irene Loizidou Nicolaidou, said the feeding of personal data in a programme known as the Bradford Factor, which produced profiles of individuals with regard to the sick leave taken, was “deemed as processing of personal data.” What was peculiar was that the report acknowledged the right of a business to monitor the frequency of sick leave, but this right had to be “exercised within the limits set by the relevant legislative framework.”

This would suggest that it was a matter of interpretation of the law and Loizidou Nicolaidou, appears to have taken the safe option, the protection of rights. Judges also take this option in their rulings, probably because nobody will criticise them for protecting an individual’s rights. This is why a judge ruled that a traffic warden, who took a photograph of a car parked illegally, had violated the right to privacy of the driver, completely ignoring the latter’s violation of the law.

The same thinking prevailed in the case of the hacked email account of state counsel Eleni Loizidou, the court issuing an injunction against their publication, although the thousands of emails were posted on a Russian website to which everyone had access; an appeal against the decision was rejected. The emails published by newspapers were not of a personal nature, but related to the correspondence between Loizidou and the office of the director of public prosecutions (DPP) of Russia regarding extradition requests for Russian nationals.

The court decided the public did not have the right to be informed about the subservience displayed by the Cyprus attorney-general’s office to Russia’s DPP and its willingness to extradite individuals in cases of politically motivated prosecutions. In effect, the courts suppressed information that was in the public interest and which exposed questionable behaviour by a state counsel on the grounds that private correspondence had to be protected. And now Loizidou has initiated private criminal proceedings against journalists of Politis newspaper for reporting the content of some of the emails.

It is an absurd situation, a direct consequence of interpreting individual rights in absolute terms. This was why the data protection commissioner decided that a company had no right to keep detailed records on employees’ absenteeism because it constituted a violation of personal data. A company could not be allowed to violate the right of employees to fully exploit their sick leave entitlement.

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