Sat | Dec 5, 2020

Shield churches, micro businesses from data law pressure – Golding

Published:Thursday | May 21, 2020 | 12:00 AMEdmond Campbell/Senior Parliamentary Reporter

St Andrew South Member of Parliament Mark Golding has proposed that the Government introduce a threshold to exempt micro businesses and small non-governmental organisations such as churches from the Data Protection Act.

With the passage of the legislation in Parliament on Tuesday, Golding said he had pointed out, during the committee’s deliberations on the bill, that it would be extremely difficult to get many micro operators to comply with the law.

Under the new legislation, a data controller could be any small business or church that has computers and stores information on its workers, clients, or, in the case of the religious body, its congregation. He noted that the legislation will impose heavy requirements on all entities to comply with the law.

He also suggested that it would cost businesses heavily to comply with the new law, especially in an era where the economy is going through significant contraction.

Golding said that the International Monetary Fund had said earlier this week that Jamaica’s economy would not recover fully until 2021-2022.

He said it would be difficult for a small business to take on additional bureaucratic costs at this time.

“If we want businesses to survive and employment to recover, we need to be careful about what bureaucratic costs we impose on businesses, and this legislation does involve some amount of bureaucratic costs to each business,” Golding told the House.

He said that under this law, each business has to designate someone with responsibility for the management of obligations under the act. He said the failure to comply could attract onerous penalties.

“The penalties under this act are extremely heavy,” he said.

STRIKING A BALANCE

Himself an attorney, Golding indicated that the law sought to strike a balance between freedom of the press and the role of the media and how they use information versus the rights of citizens to maintain privacy regarding their own data. He said that this was one of several tensions with the Data Protection Act.

Golding noted that not everything in the emerging law would be loved by the media who “lobbied quite hard for certain changes to be made, and it’s the sort of legislation that, no doubt, over time, will require further adjustment.

“It is inevitable that we should have something of this nature to protect the society in an era where we generate digital data on a range of platforms,” he said.

During the deliberations of the committee, the Press Association of Jamaica (PAJ) had argued that although Section 37 exempts journalism from some provisions of the data processing regime, it still had several problems with the bill.

The PAJ said it was worried that decisions under the act would be up to the “all-powerful” data commissioner, who is an agent of the State.

Attorney General Marlene Malahoo Forte said that the law offered provisions of the statute to be implemented over time.

She said that an extensive public education exercise would have to be carried out because the implementers were sometimes “clueless”.

Phillip Paulwell, member of parliament for Kingston East and Port Royal, warned public servants that the law would be harsh on them if they violated its provisions.

He noted that the legislation utilised the criminal jurisdiction to punish persons for breaches. However, he wants individuals to have a private right of action to recover damages for the misuse of one’s personal data without first getting permission from the owner of the data.

“If my data is abused in any way, is shared without my information, I must be able to have an originated private right of action to sue anybody, private business or even the Government, as we were able to legislate in the Fair Competition Act, to recover damages for such abuses,” he added.

edmond.campbell@gleanerjm.com