An independent investigation has found it likely a council chief acted unlawfully by secretly recording a phone conversation with the council leader.
Former Norfolk County Council leader Derrick Murphy complained to the Information Commissioner’s Office after the facts about the recording by the council’s former chief executive, David White, came to light.
After investigating Mr Murphy’s complaint, an ICO spokesman said: “We have found it likely that Norfolk County Council breached the Data Protection Act by failing to inform an individual that their comments were being recorded.”
Mr Murphy took a stronger view. He said: “It makes it absolutely clear he did wrong. I am now seriously considering private civil action against the county council for substantial damages.” He also stressed the wider implications of the ruling saying: “I think it’s a landmark decision. “
Mr Murphy said people in Norfolk needed to be convinced that the county council was treating everyone with respect and following data protection procedures. He said: “Who in their right mind will feel safe phoning anyone on Norfolk County Council if they think they are going to be secretly recorded? Someone from outside has got to come in to prove the county council is not operating secret recordings. It doesn’t leave me with any confidence that officers at senior level are capable of putting their own house in order.”
The ICO spokesman said the case appeared to involve a one-off incident and the council had been asked to ensure it did not happen again.
Norfolk County Council said it had noted the ICO conclusion that there was no evidence that similar incidents had occurred at the council or that the breach represented a general lack of compliance with data protection principles. A spokesman said: “We will, of course, consider the findings of the InformationCommissioner’s Office and take any steps to prevent the situation from happening again.”
The council took its data protection responsibilities very seriously and data protection training was mandatory for all its staff.