Baker v Secretary of State for the Home Department (1 October 2001) (unreported) (Information Tribunal)

Disclosure – data protection – confidentiality – human rights – right to family life

This was an appeal to the Information Tribunal (formerly Data Protection Tribunal), to quash a certificate issued by the Home Secretary permitting the Security Service to give a non-committal reply (ie to neither confirm nor deny) to all enquires about personal data. Mr Baker had asked the Security Service to inform he whether or not it held personal data about him and had duly received a non-committal reply.

The Home Secretary argued that there were reasonable grounds for authorising the Service to give a non-committal reply to this and other requests because it was considered necessary to safeguard national security.

The Tribunal, however, accepted Mr Baker’s claim that the exemption was wider than was necessary to protect national security, relieving the Service as it did of any obligation to give a considered reply to individual requests, and bearing in mind that the statutory functions of the Service included matters that were independent of its task of safeguarding national security. There was no reason to suppose that the burden of dealing with requests individually would be unduly onerous. A modified certificate or procedure which allowed each request to be considered on its merits and either refused or acceded to accordingly, would be a proportionate and reasonable response, given the right of individuals to respect for their private lives.

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