We have just been told that the Identification Services Bureau (DSI) has been authorised (mandated?) to share information on some residents with Judiciary Police. Apparently, members of some local associations have been targeted; their number and characteristics were not specified. Legally, the Office for Personal Data Protection (GPDP) had to be consulted. The green light came in February, 2014. The fact is that this is only known now, as it is duly mentioned in the annual report of the data protection department.
As if this was not already puzzling enough, the data includes, or could include, information about their ‘world vision, political beliefs, political associations, trade union connections and religious views’. Furthermore, the data might be transferred to other countries or territories, unidentified. There are so many issues at issue that it’s hard to know where to start.
The first question that crossed my mind was: how does DSI know about our beliefs, political, religious or otherwise? Who told them? Where, in their legal remit, is the collection and recording of such data asserted? Fortunately, DSI moved later to the fore stating that it did not, and it was not its mission, to collect such information. That service added to the argument that such information could presumably be surmised from the names and regulations of the associations. A reasonable argument, and one that may help us feel more at ease. The names and statutes of associations are public, they are published in the Official Gazette, and anyone with an interest in the matter can access the information.
But then, inevitably, another question crossed our mind: if it’s that simple, why would the PJ need to ask for special access to information that is public, together with information that is private and sensitive, which would, on top of that, require a special authorisation by GPDP? Or, as we are also told, PJ was granted access to that data (all associations data, or just a select few?) through a ‘special informatics system’ that allows them to ‘update their file’. Who is collecting and processing that information? What files are we talking about? All this seems strange; it is the least one can say.
The explanation given by PJ did not help to clarify the issue. The information was requested to ‘fight (and prevent, it appears to imply) crimes’ and to ‘support the judicial authorities’. Neither the nature of the crimes nor the support provided is defined. Re-stating the general job of PJ does not answer the questions raised. Are the criminal police trying to establish some connection between our beliefs and our criminal record, actual or potential?
We could go on, but enough has been questioned for a start. Some situations are like this: the more you ask and the more you learn about them, the less you understand and the foggier it gets. Is anyone in the public sphere willing to clarify what this is all about?