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Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Labour MSP Karen Whitefield in data protection storm

Karen Whitefield MSP - previously of email gaffe fame - is now embroiled in a major data protection row involving the names of primary school children each year for the last six years.

The Information Commissioner is now involved and has started an investigation into how Labour MSP Karen Whitefield obtained the personal data from a number of local primary schools.

Each year for the last six years Karen Whitefield, MSP for Airdrie and Shotts has sent personalised letters to around 1,000 children after obtaining the information which she wasn’t legally entitle to ask for or receive.

There is the small side argument of the cost of these letters plus associated postage being paid for by the taxpayer, but that really is not the main issue here.

If the data was passed to the Labour MSP by the headteachers as is understood, this places them as well as Karen Whitefield in the firing line.

What were these headteachers thinking of?

Surely their priority is the safety of the children in their care?

Why did they not question Karen Whitefield about this?

There is also the concern that staff in her office had access to it and then there is the question, where is the data now?  How was it used, has it been destroyed?

Under 13 years of Labour government there have been numerous breaches of data protection.

Since this ourageous scandal broke the Labour MSP has tried to laugh off the matter as trivial but this is a major breach of trust and the data protection laws.

Given that Karen Whitefield is the Chair of the Parliament Education Committee, there have also been repeated calls for her to resign which so far she has resisted.

If found guilty of breaching the Data Protection Act 1998 her position as chair of Parliament Education Committee would be untenable.

It is clear that in the six years that she and the headteachers have done this, no parent has ever been asked.

What she should have done was ask the school to write to the parents and ask their permission, there are very clear rules we have to deal with when filming children, or doing visits to schools so how this breach of data protection has taken palce is amazing.

The Children Act 1989 designates who is a ‘responsible’ adult in regard to the protection of children.

Karen Whitefield's position as an elected MSP doesn’t cover this as it has absolutely nothing to do with her duties as an MSP.
Karen Whitefield insisted she did nothing wrong because headteachers had been giving her the information for years.

How Karen Whitefield thinks this is an acceptable form of defence is well beyond me.

She told the Daily Record:
"Each June, I enjoy writing to primary seven pupils who will move to high school after the summer break. This is a long established practice.

"Over the years, I have received nothing but positive feedback from parents, teachers and pupils."
A North Lanarkshire Council spokesman said to the Daily Record:
"We are concerned by these allegations.

"Comprehensive guidance to headteachers is issued on the subject of personal data and all headteachers are expected to adhere to this guidance.

"We will now conduct a full investigation into the circumstances. It will not be complete until the headteachers return to work at the end of next week. Thereafter, we will take any appropriate action required."
Now, the Labour MSP for Airdrie and Shotts - the Scottish government 's education committee convener - and the headteachers involved are being investigated by North Lanarkshire Council over an alleged breach of data protection.

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