The Ministry of Public Administration and Communications, as the line Ministry with responsibility for the operationalization and administration of the Data Protection Act (“the Act”), had within the last several months, adopted the view that, as a matter of public policy, the Act needed to be reviewed holistically so as to harmonize the competing public interests of protection of personal privacy, on the one hand, and freedom of expression – including freedom of the press on the other.
More specifically, the Ministry has recognized that the Act touches and concerns, inter alia, potentially competing fundamental rights and freedoms as enshrined in the Constitution of Trinidad and Tobago: the right to privacy (or the right to protection of private and family life) on the one hand, and freedom of expression and specifically freedom of the press on the other. In this regard, the Ministry is mindful that, notwithstanding the strong public interest in protection of one’s personal and private information, and especially sensitive personal information (financial status, health, sexual orientation, etc.), there is an equally strong public interest in facilitating the public’s right to know and therefore the freedom of the press in enabling and giving life to that right to know.
Indeed, consistent with the Government’s policies of Open Government and Open Data which inform the national Information, Communications and Technology (ICT) agenda, and which are both grounded in principles of transparency and accountability, the Ministry has embarked on a policy review of the Data Protection Act with a view to exploring the creation of exemptions from the enforcement provisions of the Act for certain categories of expression inclusive of investigative journalism. The proposed policy contemplates that such exemptions can be availed upon an appropriate balancing in the public interest of privacy protection versus journalistic publication of material. The Ministry remains mindful of the fact that the role of the fourth estate in ensuring the public’s involvement in appropriate checks and balances on government action, is an important pillar of our democracy.
Further to the ongoing policy review of the Act, the Government has commenced a programme of stakeholder consultation, to exchange our policy ideas with important stakeholders on meaningful ways to clarify and improve the operation of the Act, inclusive of the policy positions outlined above. Once such a holistic policy review is completed, it is the Government’s intention to bring the necessary amendments to the Data Protection Act to the Parliament in the shortest possible timeframe, so as to ensure that the Act, as amended, fulfills its intended purpose – to protect privacy and personal information in a responsible fashion and in a manner that does not unduly infringe upon other civil liberties.
Ministry of Public Administration and Communications
October 24, 2016