Reflecting on Guernsey’s values for Liberation Day

Published: 6 May 2024

After the first 100 days in my role as Commissioner and as a resident of the Bailiwick, I can’t help but reflect on what I have learned about the people of Guernsey, their history, values, and how they are revealed through the data protection issues that have touched these Islands.

As the Bailiwick prepares to celebrate Liberation Day, there is no other place to begin than one of the driving forces behind the evolution of data protection rights – the Nazi regime.

Prior to WWII, census documents in Europe often required people to state their religion along with that of their parents and grandparents. Census information that could include religious and other affiliations was collated and processed by the Nazis so that people could be easily identified and selected for persecution including deportation to concentration camps where millions were killed.

Under Nazi occupation, Guernsey residents were equally exposed to these horrors. Once the atrocities came to light at the end of the War, the ‘Right to Privacy’ was soon entrenched in the European Convention on Human Rights.

Against this backdrop, it is not surprising that data rights hold an ‘iron-forged’ resonance for Islanders that can be recognised in their values. And over the last few months I have seen those Bailiwick values manifest in a myriad of ways.

How Guernsey values its children
In January the story broke of a Snapchat group where private images were shared amongst children. It caught the attention of not only the ODPA but islanders in general.

The genuine and immediate outpouring of concern amongst Guernsey’s parents and educators was staggering, leading to a ‘Roundtable on protecting children online’ where Bailiwick education leaders shared experiences, challenges and strategies towards elevating the protection of children and their information in today’s digital era.

Valuable lessons from this session, along with our wider consultations will help shape our Children’s Framework – a strategy to provide unrivalled protection to the Bailiwick’s most-cherished resource – our children.

How Guernsey cares for its most vulnerable
In February local media picked up on an ODPA case first released in December 2023. In this matter concerns were raised about alleged physical and emotional abuse of a vulnerable adult living in HSC supported accommodation.

Following disclosure to the family of a heavily redacted report into the matter, it took an investigation by our office for them to receive a copy of the report that ultimately enabled the family to inform themselves towards ensuring adequate care for their loved one.

This story truly hit a chord with residents of the Bailiwick, revealing the high value placed on compassion and transparency when it comes to caring for the most vulnerable members of society.

After being exposed first-hand to the energy and dedication with which Islanders commit themselves to 3rd sector endeavours, I am in no way surprised.

How Guernsey values fairness and due process
In April, we released our findings on a matter where a jobseeker’s offer of employment was rescinded after a reference had been provided to the Policy & Resources Committee.

The individual sought a copy of the reference from P&R, who initially refused the request on the basis that it contained information about other people.

After the ODPA issued an Order, a redacted reference was provided, balancing the interests of both the referee and job-seeker. This allowed the latter to understand what was said about them and potentially validate its accuracy.

This was clearly an important and delicate issue, however I was truly taken aback by just how much Islanders universally connected with the plight of the jobseeker.

Conversations and comments on this matter highlighted fundamental principles of fairness, due process, and even the merits of having open and honest conversations in one’s work environment.

Now I recognise that what I have highlighted is barely a glimpse of the deep and entrenched values that define this Bailiwick, and as residents are also quick to point out, ‘all is not perfect’.

But such is the human condition - it is never about being perfect today, it is about the courageous journey of being better for tomorrow.

Data protection laws in Guernsey remains fairly young, but the significance placed on these rights clearly reaches back through the ages.

Regardless of whether it is articulated as a ‘law’ or expressed as an intrinsically held value or belief, the paramount importance of these rights to Islanders is without debate.

Liberation is about freedom, and at its core data protection is about our freedom to decide what information we share and how it is used. At the ODPA, we are honoured to have the responsibility of protecting those rights.

With that, I would like to wish everyone a happy Liberation Day. I for one feel extremely fortunate to be welcomed here with my family, and to celebrate this day together with you on our wonderful new island home.