Prayers for the sick may breach GDPR, Church fears

The Daily Telegraph - - Front page - By Olivia Rudgard and Katie Mor­ley

THE Church of Eng­land has told its parishes not to pub­lish prayer re­quests for the sick with­out their per­mis­sion fol­low­ing the introducti­on of new EU data laws.

The Gen­eral Data Pro­tec­tion Reg­u­la­tion (GDPR), which came into force yes­ter­day, has caused chaos as small firms, char­i­ties and re­li­gious or­gan­i­sa­tions strug­gle to in­ter­pret the rules.

The Church of Eng­land’s guid­ance tells parishes that con­sent should be ob­tained if “names and rea­sons for the prayer re­quest are recorded and pub­lished on the church web­site or in a parish news­let­ter”.

But the In­for­ma­tion Com­mis­sioner’s Of­fice (ICO) said or­gan­i­sa­tions should not see the rules as a “bar­rier” and churches would be free to use in­for­ma­tion re­lat­ing to some­one who was part of a con­gre­ga­tion.

Or­gan­i­sa­tions that break GDPR rules can be fined up to 4 per cent of their turnover by pri­vacy watch­dogs.

Schools have also re­ported con­cerns that they can no longer hold or pass on med­i­cal in­for­ma­tion about pupils.

De­clan Kelly, the lead ad­viser for the Church of Eng­land on GDPR, said per­mis­sion would be needed “if the in­for­ma­tion were to be pub­lished on a web­site, leaflet or so­cial me­dia”.

The dio­cese of Lon­don clar­i­fied its GDPR guid­ance on Thurs­day af­ter some priests were left un­der the im­pres­sion that they could not pray for peo­ple with­out their con­sent. “There is no ob­sta­cle, un­der the GDPR, to

spo­ken prayers in church,” a spokesman said.

“In sen­si­tive sit­u­a­tions in which some­body is highly likely to be un­happy about hav­ing their name and/or other in­for­ma­tion shared, we do warmly ad­vise seek­ing their agree­ment, and re­frain­ing from shar­ing their in­for­ma­tion in print where con­sent can’t be ob­tained.”

In a sit­u­a­tion where one in­di­vid­ual wants to light a can­dle for an­other and leave a note with their de­tails, the new guid­ance says, the church must “try to en­sure that con­sent is ob­tained, par­tic­u­larly in our multi-cul­tural so­ci­ety where peo­ple may ob­ject to be­ing prayed for”.

A spokesman for the ICO said: “If, as an or­gan­i­sa­tion, you have an ex­ist­ing re­la­tion­ship with some­one, for in­stance that per­son is part of your church con­gre­ga­tion or vol­un­teers for your sports team, you would not need their con­sent to use ba­sic per­sonal in­for­ma­tion. Con­sent is not the only ba­sis for us­ing and shar­ing peo­ple’s per­sonal data.”

Andrew Charleswor­th, of the Univer­sity of Bris­tol law school, said the Church was “erring on the side of cau­tion”.

“We’re deal­ing with quite a com­plex piece of leg­is­la­tion, it’s quite a sen­si­tive area.

“If your mum or your nan is se­ri­ously ill, you may not take the publi­ca­tion of that very well,” he said.

Mr Charleswor­th said that con­sumers should not ex­pect emails from or­gan­i­sa­tions to “stop im­me­di­ately” as they strug­gled to get to grips with the new rules. He added that schools should have no con­cerns about shar­ing med­i­cal in­for­ma­tion where nec­es­sary to keep chil­dren safe, but should keep par­ents in­formed about the data they held and why.

The Daily Tele­graph was also con­tacted by Age Con­cern For­est of Dean, a small char­ity pro­vid­ing meals on wheels ser­vices to el­derly and vul­ner­a­ble peo­ple, which be­lieved fol­low­ing a phone call with the ICO’S GDPR helpline that it needed to send a two-page let­ter to each client out­lin­ing the pro­vi­sions of the Data Pro­tec­tion Act and ask­ing per­mis­sion to con­tinue to hold their data.

As many of the char­ity’s clients have de­men­tia or other dis­abil­i­ties, this would have posed a ma­jor threat to its ser­vices.

Fol­low­ing in­ter­ven­tion by this news­pa­per, the ICO tele­phoned the Age Con­cern branch to tell them that they did not need to gain peo­ple’s con­sent to con­tinue pro­vid­ing them with meals on wheels.

‘If your mum or your nan is se­ri­ously ill, you may not take the publi­ca­tion of that very well’

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