Keeping Mum

I am not a great admirer of Mr John Hemming MP. I don’t know if it’s his show-off turns in the House of Commons to defend a woman who falsely accused her husband of being a paedophile or to breach super-injunctions involving other people’s personal lives. It could be his hysterical depiction of the recent case where a health authority applied for an emergency caesarean on an Italian woman. The fact that he once nominated himself for the News of the World’s ‘Love Rat of the Year’ award doesn’t help. If you really want to get the measure of him, use the search term ‘Hemming’ on Carl Gardner’s excellent website and lose several depressing hours.

So far, so what? Well, there is a Data Protection angle to Hemming’s antics that is worth a moment’s consideration. In the past few days, he has been banned from commenting on the website Mumsnet. A detailed account of the background can be found in the very entertaining Deepest Darkest Lomellina blog. He condescendingly described the ban as being put on the ‘naughty step‘, but I think that rather plays it down. Commenting on a website while pissed is hardly conduct becoming of an MP (his comment “I may not be sober, but I am right” is a puny pretender to Tom Butler’s epic statement of inebriated entitlement “I am the Bishop of Southwark, it’s what I do“). Worse are crass attempts to reveal the real-life identities of Mumsnetters (people who may have very good reason to contribute without being identified). But the most worrying aspect is allegedly releasing a document that put him in contempt of court and revealed the names of children involved in a court case.

Hemming’s own account says blandly: “There has been an additional debate about the content of an Italian court order“, but the translation he provides makes no reference to the children’s names. When pressed on the issue of naming the children in the comments section of his blog, Hemming’s reply was opaque: “As Essex County Council implied it is not clear that the italian court order that I posted in error (my emphasis) did contravene any particular law or english court order. There is a complex jurisdictional question that applies here.”

Principle 7 of the Data Protection Act 1998 states that a Data Controller must take appropriate organisational and technical measures to prevent loss, theft, or damage to personal data, and crucially, “unauthorised or unlawful processing of personal data“. Hemming’s version confirms that he accidentally posted some of the Italian Court Order, but he appears to be unwilling to comment on the naming of the children despite being pressed to do so. If he was able to say ‘I didn’t name them’ or ‘their names are all over the internet’, I imagine he would have leapt on that defence and as far as I can see, he hasn’t.

** UPDATE: The first comment below is very compelling. I very much doubt that Mr Hemming can claim that he did not reveal any personal data, or that the data was widely known in Italy. **

Whether he chose the wrong document or – as the Deepest Darkest Lomellina blog implies – didn’t understand enough Italian to know what he was posting, there is an incident involving the publication of a court document. Whether this means Mr Hemming has breached the Seventh Principle depends whether it contained personal data, and on what measures he has taken to prevent documents containing personal data from being published inadvertently on Mumsnet. Human error is not a breach of the Seventh Principle, but poor training, a lack of checks before publication or an inadequate grasp of Italian when handling documents in that language could well be.

I cannot pretend to be an expert in contempt of court – as Mr Hemming himself said, it’s a complex jurisdictional question. But if there is a possibility that publication of the document was in contempt, then it is likely that the incident involves a breach of the first Data Protection principle. It would be neither fair or lawful to publish the data in these circumstances – which condition could Mr Hemming meet for putting personal data on Mumsnet? The publication might even engage the third principle, which demands that the processing of personal data should not be excessive. None of this should be taken to imply that Hemming *has* breached the DPA, but I do not believe that the question should lie unanswered.

The Information Commissioner certainly regards MPs as individual data controllers for the purposes of the DPA – a few years ago, he obtained an undertaking from Oliver Letwin MP following his eccentric use of bins in St James Park to dispose of sensitive letters from constituents. Moreover, following the fines levied against both Islington and Aberdeen City Councils, it is clear that the ICO is willing to take serious enforcement action against Data Controllers who publish data on the internet without proper protections.

Regular readers of this blog will know that I am sceptical about whether Data Controllers should submit themselves to the pain of an enforcement investigation just because of a random cock-up. But Mr Hemming is an MP, and should ensure that laws are upheld as well as made. He is also a devotee of transparency – in the Family Courts, in Ryan Giggs’ marriage – and so I am certain that he would want this incident to be openly and properly investigated.

Therefore, unless Mr Hemming can categorically state that he did not reveal any personal data on Mumsnet, he should report himself to the Information Commissioner immediately. And if he doesn’t, someone else should.

Comments

  1. He can’t state he didn’t revel personal info, becuase he did. All three children’s names, including the 2 in Italy. Plus their dates of birth, plus the full name of the older 2’s guardian.

    And I have the screen shots to prove it. To the necessary authorities. Not sending it to any Tom, Dick or Harry. What do you think I am, an MP ? 😉

    The extract came from a legal document that was never intended to be released to the public. I know becuase I called the Tribunale that issued it. Gave them the case number (that John Hemming posted on mumsnet) and got passed all the way up to the presidente who was happy to clarify the non public nature of the doc. Took a whole ten minutes.

    I immagine Mr Hemming’s phone was broken or something.

    Or maybe his yo-yo, “now I speak it, now I don’t” Italian skils were on the blink again.

    And what powerful millionaire could possibly have the contacts needed to get somebody else to check it for origin, status and content before plastering it on mumsnet in order to try (and fail) to prove a point in a debate with a bunch of mums. Pressing need for haste rather than care and all that jazz.

    He claimed at the time it had appeared in the Italian press. Good job those of us in Italy didn’t take his word for it and post it elsewhere before checking origin, status and content. We are actually subject to Italian privacy laws. Unlike him. Felt a bit (potentially) “elephant trap” flavoured, given he knew several of us were in Italy.

  2. Excellent; thanks very much for this additional information.

    • You are welcome. If you have any questions, or there is something you want to clarify, just ask. If I don’t know, I’ll can put you in touch with one of the other posters that do.

      There was too much to put in the synopsis, there’s loads more detail. And that is on top of him emailing (to a poster on the thread) an unredacted page from a legal document from an ongoing case in Britian. Again to try and (fail to) score a point in debate.

      I’ve never seen anything like it. And I live in Italy. Land of Berlusconi and vast swathes of other politicos who try to emulate his high standards of political conduct. And before that I lived in Thailand.

      It’s not like I am “easily shocked” elected offical wise.

  3. *as the Deepest Darkest Lomellina blog implies*

    Yeah, well,

    Who are now all out for NYE!

    So…..

    I think the timing of his post containing the extract that named all three children is… interesting.

    He had been asked (by us, the Italian speakers) to produce proof for his assertions as per the Italian court being in agreement with him, repeatedly, for yonks.

    Yet he chose to wait to post it until a few hours after the orginal court order had expired.

    Now I am not privy to the contents of Mr Hemming’s mind.

    So I cannot say with any certainty what he was thinking,.

    But hypothetically, is it not also possible that a person might have known exactly what the content was, posted it in exultation, and THEN checked to see if the court order had been extended ?

    It had BTW

    So, entirely hypothetically of course, could a person have learned of the extension after they hit “post” and have suffered “post posting panic” and joined other posters in reporting their post for deletion?

    I have John Hemming MP’s word it was a “mistake”. (Or as I call it, a grave error on his part caused by indecent haste to go “look what I have, TAH DAH!”, and a wholly irresponsible management ….of other people’s legal documents , known for their potential to contain sensitive information that they had trusted him with.)

    And I am not calling him a liar.

    But.. I am saying that having spent a couple of weeks in debate with him, forming an opinion about the kind of person he is a*based on his own words and choices*,…. I, regrettably, find myself unable to take any statement out of his mouth at face value.

  4. Ahhh! your comments deleted all my creepy wee brackets !

    What is missing from the top is that my CrackItalianLawyerTeam made me imply that it was his Italian that caused the oops.

    And they are all out drinking.

    So…(slips leash)…….

    and then read the rest.

  5. *Therefore, unless Mr Hemming can categorically state that he did not reveal any personal data on Mumsnet, he should report himself to the Information Commissioner immediately. And if he doesn’t, someone else should.*

    That’s not the same as Munby’s court is it ? I’ve reported the “incident” on mumsnet to them already.

    Oh well after calling Britian god knows how many HemmingGate related times to call Judge Munby’s offices, Tim Farron’s office and everybody else we could think of… might as well make it Biggest Phone Bill of the year and call the Informstion Commisioner as well.

    Gah! If I had any money I would buy a stake in Telecom Italia.

    ::: pootles off to Google phone number ::::

  6. Why worry about principle 7 (unless to pander to ICO’s ‘prejudices’ in that regard). Looks a pretty clear principle 1 breach, unfair and no condition satisfied, and what’s more a breach which seems to meet the all conditions of s55A. The potential for substantial damage or distress from this kind of disclosure looks clear.

  7. Reblogged this on Merlin and the Round Table Knights and commented:
    I am very happy to reblog this article about Hemmingate 🙂 I was about to write one on my own after the recent events (which I will do, once we get over the festive season’s OD) but I see that many of the legal commenters are already on it and they did a better job than I ever could… So might try another perspective on the topic 🙂
    Enjoy this article!

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