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Information Commissioner’s Office allays parish sick list fears

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has clarified that ‘consent to use basic personal information’ would not be required if a ‘person is part of your church congregation,’ following fears that a new EU data law could lead to the banning of parish sick lists.

The comments came after the SCO revealed that Glasgow Archdiocese had issued advice to parishes that names could not be included on parish sick lists without the permission of the person involved. The move following the introduction of The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) 2018 across the EU.

An ICO spokesperson said: “New data protection laws exist to give people more rights and freedoms, not as a barrier to community organisations. The key part of deciding whether you need consent to contact people is your relationship with them.

“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.”

Separately, the Catholic Church Insurance Association (CCIA) said that when the name of a sick person is only being distributed to members of the parish, it is their view that this can go ahead under GDPR.

“For years, Catholic parishes have adopted the practice of including parishioners’ names on sick lists at the request of the sick person or person close to them,” they said. “Where a sick parishioner’s name is included in a newsletter which is only distributed to members of the parish, our view is that practice can continue under the GDPR on the basis that it is in the parish’s legitimate interests as a religious body to process that personal data.

“However, if the newsletter is made available more widely (eg posted on the parish website), then our advice to parishes is not to include the names of sick parishioners unless they have given their explicit consent.”

Last week the SCO reported that parishes had advised parishioners that ‘names of the sick can no longer be published in the bulletin without the direct permission of the sick person to the parish priest.’

A spokesperson for the archdiocese said at the time: “The advice we have been given at the moment is that a person’s name should only appear in a parish sick list when they have given prior written permission.” He added: “It may be that as time passes a clearer picture will emerge about such issues, but for now we have been advised that it is best to be careful to avoid unintended breaches.”

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