A DPO's life is not a happy one... happy one

A DPO's life is not a happy one... happy one

What happens when the actions of one department in an organisation have unintended consequences on the role of the DPO.

By any accounts, Jennifer Shaw is probably having a very busy week.

Just a Data Protection Officer at a local authority going about her normal business, managing the data protection issues that arise in such a role.

Only Jennifer works for the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead (RBWM), and they are currently having a bit of a spat with a pub turned café on their patch. What does this have to do with data protection you ask. Well not a lot really, until you realise that the DPO role in local government also includes Freedom of Information requests.

No alt text provided for this imageSo, the story is thus. There is a really lovely café called Velolife in the sleepy little hamlet of Warren Row near Henley-on-Thames. In a previous life, this café was a pub called the Snooty Fox, which wasn’t especially successful and closed down. Country pubs are closing at a rapid rate in the UK so this is not unusual. They often either stand empty or they are turned into residential use, and a local amenity is lost forever. So you would kind of think that one which had been turned into a thriving business that still benefited the local community would be celebrated. Not so in the leafy lanes of Windsor and Maidenhead it seems.

“ RBWM have received complaints” they said. Too many cyclists were turning up (well the cake is truly scrummy and the portions humongous) and upsetting the locals – apparently. So they threatened the café owner with an injunction to make him cease trading if these pesky people in lycra didn’t stop ‘meeting’ at his premises.

Then they went a bit further and threatened some (though strangely not all) local cycling clubs with the same injunction. If the latter had the temerity to stop at the café during an ‘organised meet’ then they too would be named on the injunction.

But they picked on the wrong crowd. Leisure cyclists (for all of their lycra and carbon fibre, this is what they are) come from all walks of life and they are passionate about three things: Strava, cake and fair play. “What complaints” they muttered, “are our cleats too clacky, our brake blocks too squeaky?”. “How can we help?” they asked the proprietor of Velolife.

No alt text provided for this imageAt this point RBWM realised that they had been a little heavy handed, and tweeted a picture of a letter they had sent to the same cycling clubs retracting the legal threats to the clubs, but reiterating that if they stopped at the café at the start, end or during an organised ‘meet’, or even arrived at the café by car or van, then they would take it out on the owner. (Are you still with me – it is all a bit Monty Python-esque). For a Twitter account that is normally pretty quiet – tweets about hay bales in the road, broken traffic lights – it was suddenly ablaze. Then someone copied in Jeremy Vine, British Cycling, Team Ineos, Chris Boardman and next thing you know it’s on the BBC and GCN and in the Daily Telegraph.

Then someone mentioned Freedom of Information Requests and Jennifer’s life got a little busy.

No alt text provided for this imageThere are 200 members in our local cycling club (not the largest round here by far) and there are plenty of others in close proximity. It’s fair to say that they all want to know exactly how many complaints have been made in a two year period that has justified such draconian action on a café (open for cake from 10am-4pm and little longer at the weekend where the clientele arrive by bike and foot*) that used to be a pub (open from 11am – 11pm every day where the clientele arrived by car and van) and the best way to do this is via an FOI request. So this is exactly what they have been doing, in droves.

Got to wonder quite how popular the Enforcement Officer is with the DPO’s office right now…

*It appears that standing outside and chatting with a coffee or a glass of water at 10am is more offensive than standing outside and chatting with a cigarette and a pint in hand at 11pm.