Saturday, 8 June 2013

POPLA potentially ignoring Data Processing regulations. Sending unnecessary personal information to parking companies

The Parking Prankster first learned of this when he got an email from a parking company out of the blue. WTF! How did they get his email address? A quick check of the actual email contents revealed the culprit - POPLA.

When The Prankster filled in his POPLA appeal on-line, as well as all of the details related to the case he also filled in his address, email, and telephone. A quick flurry of emails* to the POPLA administrators confirmed the worst; POPLA willy-nilly pass on the private details of every person who appeals.

Now, The Prankster understands that POPLA will pass some stuff back and forth between himself and the parking companies, but he is not happy with personal data unrelated to the case going to the parking company; he doesn't want the parking company phoning or emailing him, and sees no reason why they should need this data.

It appears this data is passed to the parking company purely for operational convenience. That way, POPLA doesn't have to act as a central clearing house, and can rely on the parking company to send evidence packs to the motorist by email and post, without having to bother with this administrative overhead themselves. (There is of course no reason whatsoever to pass on telephone numbers.)

Flawed Reasons

The Parking Prankster believes this is flawed for two reasons. Firstly, 'operational convenience' is not a good reason to flout the Data Processing regulations. The laws are there for a reason, and I am sure that a great many people, similar to The Prankster, are now unhappy that parking companies have their address, email and telephone number. Quite simply, the industry is known to have a goodly share of scammers and untrustworthy individuals, and you just have to look at the criminal records of some of the individuals involved to understand why it is not a wise move to let them have your personal details.

Secondly, parking companies are already abusing the process. They have to sign a declaration to POPLA giving the date when the evidence pack was sent to the motorist. Not once has The Prankster received the evidence pack on the date the parking company signed. Not once has he even received it on the following day! Or the day after that! Seeing as the packs were sent to the Prankster by email and not post, there can be no 'it was lost in the post' excuses. The evidence packs were sent between 3 and 4 days after the day they were actually signed as being sent.

This is important. POPLA give the operator a deadline for replying. If the operators are fraudulently misrepresenting that the evidence was sent in time for the deadline, when it actually was not, then they are abusing the process. Less importantly right now, this may not leave the motorist enough time to consider the evidence from the parking company. As POPLA is currently running an estimated 4 months behind schedule, this is probably not a great hardship on the motorist right now. However, if POPLA ever get their act together and start to adjudicate on time, then it will become more relevant. An operator reply giving only 4 days to consider and reply to 40 pages of evidence is simply not fair on the motorist.

It gets worse. Not only are POPLA giving your data to the parking companies, but also to other third parties. Some parking companies, unable to cope with the stress and bother of POPLA appeals themselves, have contracted the work out to third parties. The Prankster is not happy with his data going to the parking companies, let alone any Tom, Dick or Harry that they may have paid to take the POPLA burden off their hands.

*a quick flurry of emails in POPLA timescales means 2-3 weeks worth of effort.

The Prankster Writes

The Prankster has therefore written to POPLA with his concerns. He got back a 'we will take a look in a while' email. The Prankster replied saying that was not good enough, that potential Data Protection violations should be taken seriously, and setting a deadline of two weeks for a reply; more than enough time for any organisation who take Data Processing seriously to start the ball rolling. That deadline has now expired.

If you are similarly concerned that POPLA may be flouting the Data Processing regulations and not really taking this seriously enough to bother investigating in a timely way you can complain to London Councils here. If you are not happy with their answer, then you can take it further with the Information Commissioner here.

POPLA's statement on Data Handling

POPLA's privacy statement is here and contains this statement.

With the exception of requirements expressed by parliament, information you provide us in connection with the registering and conduct of an appeal will not be shared with any other parties.
The Prankster firmly believes until shown otherwise that parliament has not expressed a requirement for his personal details to be shared with the parking company, and for any of his details to be shared with a third party working on behalf of the parking company.

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