Gavin Barwell took more than two years to comply with data protection law after being elected as MP for Croydon Central, Inside Croydon has discovered.
His excuse? The former public schoolboy says that he thought someone else was doing it for him.
Had the Information Commissioner’s Office decided to prosecute Barwell for his failure to register as a data controller, the former Croydon councillor might have faced fines amounting to £10,000.
Despite running an office staffed with four assistants, all paid for by the tax-payer, it took Barwell until July 6 this year before completing the correct documentation and paying the £35 annual fee to allow him to handle his constituents’ private, personal and confidential data.
A spokesman for the ICO said that Barwell finally got round to complying with the law following two letters sent to MPs this year. According to the ICO, Barwell was among a recalcitrant rump of around 50 MPs who failed to register as required by the Data Protection Act.
“There’s a legal requirement on everyone – whether they are MPs, councillors or people running businesses or organisations – that if they handle other people’s personal details and information, they need to register as a data controller,” the ICO spokesman said.
Although the ICO is not hasty to prosecute – they routinely send three warning letters before taking action – “if we receive no reply, we can take action, and the maximum fine each year is £5,000”.
The ICO said it is not planning to take any further action in Barwell’s case, explaining that they have to “prioritise our resources”.
The spokesman said, “Obviously, we see it as an issue, which is why we wrote to unregistered MPs this year.”
The ICO refused to comment on whether it would be as lenient in its decision not to prosecute had this two-year breach of the law been commissioned by someone running a small business, rather than an MP.
Since earlier this year, there’s been a growing number of complaints from Croydon residents, and even from some living outside the borough, who have received unsolicited emails from Barwell and from the local Tory party, some encouraging them to vote for Boris Johnson as Mayor of London – even though many of the recipients are paid-up members of the Labour party.
Barwell’s usual explanation is that the individuals must have signed up to receive his regular emails – not that Barwell was registered to hold their information at that time.
The ICO is understood to be investigating whether any offences have been committed under the Data Protection Act over the misuse of people’s personal data.
In the case of Barwell, he was properly registered as a data controller when a Croydon councillor until May 6, 2010, so he ought to have been well aware of the requirements of the law.
Nor is it the first brush with the law for Barwell since he won his Westminster seat: both he and his Tory party colleague, Richard Ottaway, failed to comply with the rules on election expenses in 2010, forcing their election agent to be called before a judge to be given a slap on the wrist.
Inside Croydon contacted Gavin Barwell to ask him to justify how he, as a law-maker, had spent the past two years as a law-breaker, failing to fulfil his obligations under the Data Protection Act.
“I was under the impression, as were a number of other new MPs, that the parliamentary authorities had registered us,” Barwell told Inside Croydon. “As soon as it was drawn to my attention that this was not the case, I registered.”
So it would appear that if you are an MP, ignorance of the law and passing the buck remain an excuse for illegal conduct.
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