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Deficiencies observed in the processing of visitor data by Parliament

The Parliamentary Ombudsman Petri Jääskeläinen has criticised the conduct of the Parliament's Security Department when it handled requests for data on visitors to Parliament in 2017. 

Data involved in an appeal may not be destroyed while the related court case is pending

The Ombudsman considers the Parliament's Security Department to have acted erroneously in destroying the requested data on visitors before the Supreme Administrative Court delivered a final judgement on whether such data belonged to the public domain. This was based on the data storage times provided for in the Personal Data Act, which expired during the court case.

The Parliament's administration decides on whether it is generally necessary to store visitor data and for how long. However, a party requesting data has the right to assume that the public authority will not jeopardise the right of appeal and nullify an appeal, by destroying the documents which the appeal concerns while the case is pending. Such a procedure would also jeopardise the public availability of the related documents, if the court were to decide that they belonged to the public domain.

Insufficient attention was paid to the impact of the reduction in storage time

After the original court case, the storage time of visitor data had been shortened from 12 months to one day, with the consequence that some requests for visitor data could not be met before the data was destroyed.

The Ombudsman emphasises that parties have the right to request visitor data from a certain date, either well in advance or on the same day. Such data must not be destroyed before each request has been subject to the appropriate processing. 

The Ombudsman points out that the Parliament’s administration did not take sufficient account of the practical implications of the change in storage times – in the manner required by good data management practices – thereby enabling requests to be properly met within the very short storage times set.

Guidance in accordance with the Act on the Openness of Government Activities must be provided on negative decisions

The Ombudsman points out that when a public servant refuses to provide requested information, he or she must provide guidance in accordance with the Act on the Openness of Government Activities, rather than guidance on demands for rectification in accordance with the Administrative Procedure Act. The Administrative Procedure Act’s guidelines on demands for rectification are not applicable to the processing of requests for documents. 

A number of complaints

The Ombudsman received a total of 9 complaints on the handling of visitor data by Parliament. These included a joint complaint by almost 30 media organisations, as well as complaints by associations and private individuals.

Decision EOAK/4566/2017 by Parliamentary Ombudsman Petri Jääskeläinen is available in full in Finnish on the Ombudsman’s website www.oikeusasiamies.fi/en

For more information, please contact Principal Legal Adviser Mikko Sarja, tel. + 358 9 432 3364.