Data protection has long offered the uninformed the opportunity to excuse their unwillingness to help by reference to half-understood principles.
Attempts to get simple answers from organisations, including those with whom you have a contractual relationship, are too often met with “Can’t tell you that cos of dita protexshun”. Policemen and other public servants try to prevent you taking photographs of them going about their public business with similar cries.
The culprits are often the same as those who blame “elf ’n’ safety” for stupidly unnecessary bans on normal activities. Often this comes from organisations for whom being unhelpful is a deliberate policy – shysters in telecoms or energy providers, for example, whose business model assumes that users will stop complaining if they make it hard for them to do so – or from public bodies like local authorities staffed by low-end pen-pushers who get the illusion of importance from making life difficult for the public.
In both cases, the actual authorities – data protection commissioners and (in the UK) the Health and Safety Commission, despair at this misuse of powers which, properly used, have a real purpose and value.
There seems to be a competition running for the most stupid purported application of the GDPR. I think we now have a winner.
An Post, the state-owned provider of postal services in Ireland, has removed all public rubbish bins from the General Post Office because of the fear that it would become liable under the GDPR for information thus left in its care.
An article in the Independent headed Office of Data Protection Commissioner says GPO can keep their bins as public litter is not in breach of GDPR rules quotes a spokesperson as saying:
All public bins were removed from the GPO.
Items of a confidential nature like receipts and mail items are often deposited in the bins by customers and visitors in the post office’s main hall.
This material then technically becomes the responsibility of An Post under GDPR.
To head off any possible breach of GDPR in the future, An Post decided to remove the bins on a trial basis.
Sensibly, the Office of the Data Protection Commissioner has made it clear that “under no circumstances” could the collection of public litter in bins be a breach of the GDPR.
Can anyone beat this?