Senators urge Government to proclaim Data Protection Act this year

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

From left, Opposition senators Jayanti Lutchmedial, David Nakhid, and Damian Lyder converse during the sitting of the Senate, Red House, Abercromby Street, Port of Spain, on Tuesday. – AYANNA KINSALE

SENATORS from both the Opposition and Independent benches on Tuesday called on the Government to fully proclaim all unproclaimed parts of the Data Protection Act 2011, to protect people’s personal details, this year.

The Senate continued debate on Opposition Senator Wade Mark’s private motion urging the Government to proclaim the unproclaimed sections immediately.

Independent Senator Charisse Seepersad took a middle path by proposing a May deadline for amendments leading to a full proclamation.

Attorney General Reginald Armour, SC, countered by proposing proclamation “as soon as possible,” while Opposition Senator Damien Lyder later proposed a December 31 amendment to Mark’s motion.

The sitting began with Opposition Senator Jearlean John debating Mark’s original proposal to say the act was 11 years old and its protection was now needed more than ever in an era where personal cellphones were now supercomputers containing people’s entire lives, amid Big Data.

She said TT was now in no man’s land regarding the act. John related how much personal information people revealed in simple daily transactions, such as her being asked her name and phone number simply for a cashier to ring up her purchase of lipstick recently.

“Something is better than nothing. Amendments can be made as we go along, but leaving people with no protection is absolutely not acceptable.”

She said the UK Data Protection Act 2009 was further amended in 2018.

Fearing waiting until the proverbial twelfth of never for proclamation, John urged, “We don’t have to mash up everything and say we’ll have consultation. We need to proclaim the law as it is.”

Seepersad argued that the public bodies’ protection of people’s personal data at present was “ineffective, feeble and unenforceable.”

Saying citizens were not protected, she said it now fell to individuals to secure their own privacy. Seepersad said people exposed their personal information by filing tax returns, engaging in social media, and using their cell phone.

“You are sharing your data online with people you don’t know.”

She warned that people’s data might be shared with companies which could then subject them to targeted marketing.

“Citizens don’t know who has access to their data. Who’s it shared with? Is it correct?”

Armour said the act was a work in progress. “Yes, we must fully proclaim the act but not rush until an analysis of best international practice.”

Saying the act at present contains ambiguities and misconceptions, he promised to bring amendments “in the shortest possible time,” with the act to be proclaimed “as soon as possible.”

Armour said in contrast to the wording of Mark’s motion, section 4 of the act had been proclaimed. This says, “The object of this act is to ensure that protection is afforded to an individual’s right to privacy and the right to maintain sensitive personal information as private and personal.”

Likewise the AG said section 6 was proclaimed which sets out general privacy principles for people who handle, store or process personal information belonging to another person. This section says organisations must identify the purpose for which personal information is collected, the person’s knowledge and consent are required, collection must be legally undertaken and limited to what is necessary, and personal information shall only be retained for as long as is necessary for the purpose collected and not be disclosed for purposes, and must accurate, complete and up-to-date.

Lyder proposed the act be proclaimed “at the earliest possible date and in any event on or before December 31.”

Contributions were also made by Independent Senator Dr Maria Dillon-Remy, Minister of Public Administration Allyson West, Independent Senator Amrita Deonarine Opposition Senator Anil Roberts and Trade Minister Paula Gopee-Scoon.

The Senate did not vote on the motion which will continue, and adjourned to a date to be fixed.