“restriction imposed by the controller was lawful;”.
This amendment changes the nature of the request that a data subject may make to the Commissioner in cases where rights to information are restricted under Clause 44(4) or 45(4). The effect is that a data subject will be able to request the Commissioner to check that the restriction was lawful.
These technical amendments are required to ensure that the provisions in clause 51 do not inadvertently undermine criminal investigations by the police or other competent authorities. Under the Bill, where a person makes a subject access request, it may be necessary for the police or other competent authority to give a “neither confirm nor deny” response, for example in order to avoid tipping someone off that they are under investigation for a criminal offence. In such a case, the data subject may exercise their rights under clause 51 to ask the Information Commissioner to check that the processing of their personal data complies with the provisions in part 3. It would clearly undermine a “neither confirm nor deny” response to a subject access request if a data subject could use the provisions in part 3 to secure confirmation that the police were indeed processing their information.
It is appropriate that the clause focuses on the restriction of a data subject’s rights, not on the underlying processing. The amendments therefore change the nature of the request that a data subject may make to the commissioner in cases where rights to information are restricted under clause 44(4) or clause 45(4). The effect of the amendments is that a data subject will be able to ask the commissioner to check that the restriction was lawful. The commissioner will then be able to respond to the data subject in a way that does not undermine the original “neither confirm nor deny” response.
This is a significant amendment—I understand the ambition behind the clause—so it is worth dwelling on it for a moment. I would like to check my understanding of what the Minister said. In a sense, if an investigation is under way and the individual under investigation makes a subject access request to the police and gets a “neither confirm nor deny” response, the data subject will be able to ask the Information Commissioner to investigate. Will the Minister say a little more about what message will go from the police to the Information Commissioner and the content of the message that will go from the Information Commissioner to the data subject? I have worked on such cases in my constituency. Often, there is an extraordinary spiral of inquiries and the case ultimately ends up in a judicial review in court. Will the Minister confirm that I have understood the mechanics accurately and say a little more about the content of the messages from the police to the Information Commissioner and from the Information Commissioner to the person who files the request?
I can help the right hon. Gentleman in one respect: he has understood the mechanics. I am afraid that I cannot give him examples, because it will depend on the type of criminal offence or the type of investigation that may be under way. I cannot possibly give him examples of the information that may be sent by the police to the Information Commissioner, because that will depend entirely on the case that the police are investigating.
Perhaps I can pose the question in a sharper way. I do not think that is entirely the case. It must be possible for the Minister to be a little more specific, and perhaps a little more knowledgeable, about the content of the message that will go from the Information Commissioner to the data subject. Will that be a standard message? Will it be in any way detailed? Will it reflect in any way on the information that the police provide? Or will it simply be a blank message such as “I, the Information Commissioner, am satisfied that your information has been processed lawfully”? I do not think the Information Commissioner is likely to ask for too much detail about the nature of the offence, but she will obviously ask whether data has been processed lawfully. She will want to make checks in that way. Unless the Information Commissioner is able to provide some kind of satisfactory response to the person who has made the original request, we will end up with an awful administrative muddle that will take of lot of the courts’ time. Perhaps the Minister could put our minds at rest on that.
The Information Commissioner will get the information but, by definition, she does not give that information to the subject, because law enforcement will have decided that it meets the criteria for giving a “neither confirm nor deny” response from their perspective. The commissioner then looks at the lawfulness of that; if she considers it to be lawful, she will give the same response—that the processing meets part 3 obligations.