“At first, the questions seemed reasonable: name, age, address, place of work, position… But then I was asked weight and height.
“[…] Why has TTPS not said they are collecting this data and why are they violating the Data Protection Act, which was partially proclaimed in 2012?”
The following letter to the editor on the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service’s method of collecting personal information was submitted to Wired868 by a concerned citizen who requested anonymity:
I am an essential worker and so I have been issued a letter of authorisation to be presented should I be stopped by the police while on the way home or to work.
On Wednesday 21 April 2020, I was stopped twice on my way home from work. The first road block was on Tragarete Road in front of the Oval and was in keeping with what I have experienced both before and during the Covid-19 lockdown.
I handed over my letter and was asked for my driver’s licence to verify that I was the person referred to in the letter. The second road block was in front of the Four Roads Police Station, at around 4pm and was definitely different.
I handed over my letter and provided my licence knowing that the latter would be requested. I also advised that I was on my way home. I was then asked to wind down my windows and to turn off my motor vehicle engine.
The officer then informed me that since I had volunteered the information that I was on my way home, I would be required to answer a few questions. I am so sorry that I did not ask at that stage why—but wanting to be cooperative with our front-line workers in this crisis, I responded when questions were posed.
At first, the questions seemed reasonable: name, age, address, place of work, position… But then I was asked weight and height. A red flag went up in my head and I noticed the officer looking at me while writing, so obviously visual characteristics were being recorded.
Real concern was kicking, but I still did not ask why. Then my insurance was asked for and so the anxiety level dropped; and finally I was allowed to proceed on my way to safety and security.
I shared this experience with family and friends, only to learn that this has been happening to others for over a year now. Some have been told by the police, they are building a database.
I have no problem with the police building a database, if it will help law enforcement, but then please tell us, the citizens of this twin island state that you are doing that and that it is being done to help with law enforcement.
I am familiar with the Data Protection Act section 32 (1), which requires a public body: to ensure that the individual from whom it collects personal information or causes personal information to be collected is informed of –
- the purpose for collecting it;
- the legal authority for collecting it; and
- the title, business address and business telephone number of an official or employee of the public body who can answer the individual’s questions about the collection.
Subsection (2) goes on to outline exceptions to which subsection (1) shall not apply and my experience does not fit within that subsection.
So why has TTPS not said they are collecting this data and why are they violating the Data Protection Act, which was partially proclaimed in 2012?
The Data Protection Act is critical companion legislation to the Freedom of Information Act. During this crisis, a lot of personal information is being captured by entities and can be freely requested/shared with other entities and we the individuals can do nothing about to prevent this.
Data Protection would have provided a much stronger legal framework for the prosecution of persons in respect of Cambridge Analytica and it would go a long way to help build trust in online banking and shopping, thereby helping Trinidad and Tobago to move forward with digital services, both public and private.
But first and foremost, why is our law enforcement entity breaking the law?
Even though the Act is only partially proclaimed, it is part of the government’s policy framework. The policy went through the Cabinet and Parliamentary processes, so all government entities should be adhering to the principles articulated therein.
They are there for our protection.