Guidance note regarding requests under Section 10(4) of the Regulation of Lobbying Act to exclude personal data from the Register of Lobbying

 

Introduction

This guidance note sets out the factors taken into account by the Standards Commission when considering requests to exclude personal data from the Register of Lobbying (the Register).

 

Relevant legislation

Section 11(b) of the Regulation of Lobbying Act (the Act) provides that a person making an application to be included on the Register (an Application to Register) must provide “the address (or principal address) at which the person carries on business or (if there is no such address) the address at which the person ordinarily resides”.

Section 11(d) of the Act provides that a person making an Application to Register must provide details of any e-mail address, telephone number or website address relating to the person’s business or main activities.

Section 10(1)(a) of the Act provides that the Register shall contain the information contained in Applications to Register made to the Standards Commission under section 11 of the Act.

Section 10(4) of the Act provides that the Standards Commission may exclude personal data from the Register if it considers it is necessary to do so in order to:

i)                prevent the personal data being misused or

ii)              protect the safety of any person or the security of the State.

 

Who can apply to hide personal data?

Section 10(4) of the Act refers to “personal data”.  In most cases, registrants must provide their business contact information, and it will not be necessary to provide, or hide, personal information.  Contact information provided by a business, company or organisation in an Application to Register is unlikely to constitute personal data.  Section 10(4) is unlikely to apply, therefore, to such contact information.  Similarly section 10(4) is unlikely to apply to information contained in a return of lobbying activities which is submitted by a professional lobbyist in respect of a client which is a business, company or organisation.

Where a registrant does not have business contact information they must provide personal details.  The registrant may choose to apply to hide their personal information.  In making such an application, the person must provide reasons why they consider their personal data should be excluded from the Register.  The information is not published until the Head of Lobbying Regulation has made a decision in relation to the request to exclude personal data.

Section 10(4) may also apply in situations where a professional lobbyist is submitting a return of lobbying activities in respect of an individual client and the client wishes his/her personal data to be excluded from the Register.

 

Factors taken into consideration before considering a request to exclude personal data

 

Is it a valid registration/return?

The Act provides that communications by or on behalf of an individual relating to his or her private affairs is not lobbying unless the communications relate to the development or zoning of any land which is not their principal or private residence.

An individual communicating on a matter which does not concern zoning or development of land may be outside of the scope of the Act and not required to register.

If it is evident that the lobbying activity does not relate to zoning or development the Standards Commission will contact the person to confirm that he/she is within the scope of the Act and that a lobbying activity (as defined in the Act) has been carried out.

 

Is the person correct in registering as an individual lobbyist?

If a person registering as an individual lobbyist has carried out the lobbying activities on behalf of a business, company or other organisation then the lobbying activity is regarded as having been carried out by the business, company or organisation.  In such cases the person is advised that the business, company or organisation should be registered and that relevant contact details for the business, company or organisation should be provided.

 

Has the person provided the correct contact details when registering?

An individual is not required as a matter of course to provide details of his/her home address when registering.  Section 11(b) of the Act requires a person to provide details of the address at which the person carries on their business or main activities regardless of the subject matter of the lobbying communication.  A person is not required to provide details of their home address if there is an address at which they carry out their business or main activity which can be provided.

Similarly section 11(d) of the Act requires a person to provide details of any e-mail address, telephone number or website address relating to the person’s business or main activities.  Persons are not required to provide personal contact details if there is a telephone number and e-mail address relating to their business or main activity which can be provided.

Where a person provides personal contact details and it is evident to the Standards Commission that there are alternative contact details relating to the person’s business or main activities which should be provided, the Standards Commission will inform the person that it considers it appropriate that the contact information relating to the persons business or main activities should be provided on their Application to Register.  The person is afforded 7 days to amend their contact information.  If the contact information is not amended the Commission will then consider whether the personal contact information provided on the Application to Register should be excluded from the Register.

 

Factors taken into consideration when considering the request to exclude personal data

 

When satisfied that an individual has carried out a lobbying activity; has correctly registered as an individual lobbyist; and has provided the appropriate contact details, the Standards Commission will then consider the request to exclude personal data having regard to the following factors:

 

Does the person’s request meet the criteria of section 10(4) of the Act?

A request which seeks to exclude personal data simply on the basis that the contact information is personal or private does not meet the requirements of section 10(4).  In such cases the person is informed that the reason provided is not a sufficient basis for the Standards Commission to exclude their contact details from the Register.  The person is afforded 7 days to provide further reasons or evidence to support their request.

A request which seeks to exclude personal data for personal security reasons meets the requirements of section 10(4).  If a person expresses concerns over their safety and security and the Standards Commission is satisfied having regard to the individual concerned that the concerns are valid, the Standards Commission may exclude the personal data.  The Standards Commission may request the person to provide further information or evidence in support of their request.

 

Is the contact information personal data?

If a person also uses their personal contact details for business purposes (including as a consultant lobbyist) then the contact details are also regarded as their business or “lobbying” contacts and may not be regarded as purely personal contact information.  In such circumstances it is unlikely that the Standards Commission would exclude the contact information from the Register.

 

Is the contact information already in the public domain?

Where the contact information which the person is seeking to exclude from the Register is already in the public domain (whether online or otherwise) it is difficult to justify excluding such information from the Register.  In most cases the Standards Commission will not exclude contact information from the Register which is already in the public domain.

 

Transparency of the Register

A key consideration for the Standards Commission is whether excluding the information from the Register would prevent a member of the public from properly identifying or contacting a person on the Register.  It is understood that one of the purposes of including contact information on the Register (as provided for in section 11(d) of the Act) is to allow any interested person to contact the lobbyist to inquire about a lobbying activity.

Another consideration is whether publication of certain contact information (in particular telephone numbers) enhances the transparency of the Register.  The principle of ensuring transparency by allowing for scrutiny of lobbying activities should be respected, while still addressing any legitimate need to hide specific personal information.

 

Decision of the Standards Commission

 

Having regard to the above the Standards Commission may publish, in whole or in part, a registrant’s personal contact information.  A letter explaining the decision will be issued to the registrant outlining what, if any, information will be hidden and the reasons for the decision.

 

Note:

When creating an account on the online Register a person is asked to provide a mobile phone number for the purposes of authenticating the creation of the account.  A mobile phone number provided to the Standards Commission solely for this purpose is not published on the Register.  If, however, the same mobile phone number is also included as the contact telephone number on the person’s Application to Register then the mobile phone number may be published on the Register if the Standards Commission considers it is appropriate to do so.