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PRIVACY ALARM - Concerns raised over public disclosure of personal info on credit registry

Published:Friday | February 13, 2015 | 2:00 AM

Daraine Luton, Senior Staff Reporter

By simply logging on to the Internet and typing your name into a search engine, you may be surprised to find that your personal and business information, including name, address and debts, is there for everyone to see.

Well, that is, if you are on the National Security Interests in Personal Property Registry for Jamaica's website, which was created following the passage of the Security Interests in Personal Property (SIPP) Act last year.

"This is alarming!" Everald Warmington, one member of parliament (MP) whose personal information has been exposed, exclaimed when told about the situation yesterday.

"I don't know how they got that information. Nobody asked me for my information. It is alarming and it ought to be corrected," he said.

Attorney-at-law Peter Champagnie told The Gleaner yesterday that he believed the regulation which gives rise to the registry flies in the face of the Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedom.

"It is likely to offend the Constitution of Jamaica, specifically the Fundamental Rights and Freedoms, Section 13 (1) (J) ii and iii that speaks to the right of every citizen to have privacy to his property," Champagnie said.

"That legislation should be challenged, and ought to be tested in a court of law," added the attorney.

GUARANTEES UNDER CHARTER

Under the Charter of Rights, the State has an obligation to promote universal respect for, and observance of, human rights and freedoms. All persons in Jamaica are entitled to preserve for themselves and future generations, the fundamental rights and freedoms to which they are entitled, by virtue of their inherent dignity as persons and as citizens of a free and democratic society; and all persons are under a responsibility to respect and uphold the rights of others.

Section 13 (1) (J) guarantees the right of everyone to (i) protection from search of the person and property; (ii) respect for and protection of private and family life, and privacy of the home; and (iii) protection of privacy of other property and of communication.

The constitution further said that Parliament shall pass no law and no organ of the State shall take any action which abrogates, abridges or infringes those rights.

Aubyn Hill, an investment banker whose personal information has been exposed, said while he has no problems with the description of the assets being made public, personal information "in the wrong hands can be risky".

He said that the regime should be revisited to get expressed permission from a debtor in order to make personal information public.

But when contacted yesterday, Judith Ramlogan, CEO of the Registrar of Companies, said the ability to access people's credit data was not unusual.

"That is how the registry is set up," she said. "That is how it is done overseas."

The SIPP was passed by Parliament to allow for movable assets to be used as collateral.

HOW IT WORKS

When a person buys personal property on hire purchase, or uses personal property as security for a loan or another type of credit-providing transaction, the secured creditor will probably register details of the security interest in the National Security Interests in Personal Property Registry. Those details include a debtor's personal details, including name, address, and a description of the personal property.

Regulations in support of the SIPP allow for the register to maintain certain records relating to personal property. The regulations say the registrar shall maintain the register in a state of availability for public inspection, including the capability to view any registration notice filed in the register by inputting a search of any information such as the name of the debtor.

In the case of a motor vehicle, the serial number of the motor vehicles are made public, and in the case of fixtures, the identification information relating to the land is disclosed.

Ronald Thwaites, a member of the Cabinet, whose information is also public, said that with the game-changing legislation, under the SIPP, a lender has the right to certain information for "extra security".

He said, however, that the system must reserve the privacy of personal information.

"That is unacceptable. That is a business between the bank and myself," Thwaites said after being told details of his information being available on the Internet.

"I will be sure to bring it back to my colleagues. We certainly have to refresh the legislation and see that it is better dealt with," Thwaites added.

Omar Azan, whose company Boss Furniture appears in the online registry, said that the Government should have a second look at the regulation.

"I don't think it should be public knowledge. I think it should be accessible to the financial institution that is licensed for verification of lending," Azan said.

Senator Lambert Brown, who as a legislator gave strong support to the SIPP, said consideration should be given to revisiting the way the registry operates.

daraine.luton@gleanerjm.com