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Opposition Leader seeks to clear the air on controversial Data Protection Bill

Opposition leader Dr. Keith Mitchell - calls for consultations on the Data Protection Bill

There has been a bitter verbal clash in the island’s Parliament between government and the Opposition on a controversial Data Protection Bill that was drafted by the former New National Party (NNP) administration of defeated Prime Minister Dr. Keith Mitchell.

The former Grenadian leader who now serves as Opposition Leader has been attempting to clear the air on the bill following pronouncements advanced in Parliament by current Prime Minister Dickon Mitchell and his ruling National Democratic Congress (NDC) government.

PM Dickon Mitchell, the Member of Parliament (MP) for St. David, who moved the Bill for approval in the Lower House on Tuesday, called out Dr. Keith Mitchell, and his NNP for questioning the Bill, which he and his former Cabinet ministers approved “in March 2022,” approximately three (3) months before being voted out of office in the June 2022 elections poll.

However, the Opposition leader, who convened a press conference to shed light on the contentious issue moments after the Bill was tabled in the Lower House, told reporters that the draft Data Protection Bill was recommended by the “Eastern Caribbean Currency Union,” and dates back to “2011” when it was presented to the then ruling Tillman Thomas-led Congress administration.

Dr. Mitchell, the MP for the St. George North West constituency, did not support the Bill in its present construct, and sought the “support of the government for us to not proceed with this bill at this time so that wide consultations can be held.”

He contended that “there are aspects of this Bill that we should be discussing,” and noted that the ECCU draft legislation was also presented to other ECCU member countries, who were then required to “make adjustments that they would want to implement in their own country.”

The Opposition leader, who served as Prime Minister for two (2) consecutive terms since 2013, also explained why his administration did not move to implement the ECCU recommendation during its almost 9-year tenure.

“When our Legal department was asked to proceed after the Cabinet said we will accept the draft going forward for discussion, they said that it was not in a position to proceed with the consulting process as it was, so they had to make certain changes (and) that is why it never went to Parliament,” Dr. Mitchell told reporters.

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The Data Protection Bill, which seeks to promote the protection of personal data processed by public, and private entities, has been generating much debate on the island with many individuals expressing concerns that consultations were not held before attempting to pass it into law.

Prime Minister Dickon Mitchell has given assurance that the Bill is subject to be amended at any time if the need arises.

The NNP has put out the following release on the bill.

“The New National Party (NNP), hereby calls on the Government to withdraw the proposed Data Protection legislation and not to attempt to re-introduce it until consultation with all sectors of the Grenadian population is held in relation to its provisions.

The NNP believes that adequate protection of personal data and the implementation of measures relating to data security are vital in any modern democratic society. Whilst Data Protection legislation is desirable and necessary, a draft Bill that does not consider and take into account fundamental aspects, is likely to cause harm, rather than achieve its objectives.

The lack of consultation and the failure to allow key stakeholder groups (including the religious community, the bar association, trade unions, civil society, and the business community) to provide input on the Data Protection Bill 2023, has left the New National Party no option but to object to its tabling in Parliament.

By way of background, the OECS circulated the initial draft legislation, on the premise that a consultation process would be held by Member States. The far-reaching nature of the Data Protection Bill, which will govern the protection, access to, and use of personal data, and sensitive personal data such as medical information, means that individual’s rights must be carefully safeguarded.

The adequate safeguarding of personal data affects the way in which information is held by most institutions – our banks, hotels, medical institutions, schools – and extends to micro and small business operators. Authorizing the access and use of this data must NOT be potentially open to politicians or be otherwise subject to abuse.

The New National Party therefore anticipates the holding of these Consultations. We are committed to participating along with other Stakeholders and have already committed the resources necessary to do so.”

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