Uighurs’ lawyer critical of Pati release

  • Care must be taken: lawyer Richard Horseman

    Care must be taken: lawyer Richard Horseman

A lawyer for Bermuda’s four Uighurs has raised concerns after the Government mistakenly released highly confidential records about the men’s relatives under public access to information.

The Department of Immigration initially provided only eight records about the Uighurs to The Royal Gazette in response to a Pati request lodged in January 2017.

The newspaper appealed the limited disclosure to the Information Commissioner’s Office and last Tuesday the department released 117 pages of records, mainly comprising internal government e-mails.

Some of the records contained detailed personal information about the men’s relatives.

The department recalled the e-mail disclosure on Thursday and has since said the personal information was included in error.

The Royal Gazette has agreed not to make public any of that personal information.

Richard Horseman, the men’s lawyer, said: “We were surprised to learn that documents containing personal information of the Uighurs were released.

“Under the Pati legislation, no personal records should have been released to the RG or, at the very least, our clients should have had notice of any pending release of any such information, in accordance with the regulations.

“This would [have] afforded our clients the opportunity to object to any dissemination of the information.”

Mr Horseman said the error “could have had serious repercussions for our clients”.

He added: “We understand that this was an administrative error and I think everyone recognises that care must be taken when handling these type of requests.

“Had this information fallen into the wrong hands, it could have placed the Uighurs and their families at risk of harm.

“We do understand the public interest in the Uighurs, but their right to have their personal information kept private should be respected.”

Information Commissioner Gitanjali Gutierrez has repeatedly urged the Government to give civil servants proper guidelines on how to deal with public access to information requests.

Ms Gutierrez has recused herself from any ICO review regarding the Uighurs because of a conflict related to her previous role as a lawyer for Guantánamo Bay prisoners.

The ICO said in a statement that public authorities had to consult and notify people before making a decision to disclose their personal information under Pati.

It said it appeared that the immigration department made the disclosure on the Uighurs “without the appropriate procedures being followed for consultation and notification to the concerned individuals under the Pati Act”.

“Once personal information is disclosed under the Pati Act, it is challenging for individuals to remove it from the public domain,” the statement said.

“The Information Commissioner is mandated to ensure that, where necessary, individuals’ personal information remains protected under the Pati Act and an individual’s right to challenge a disclosure of personal information is safeguarded.”

The Department of Immigration declined to comment.

On occasion The Royal Gazette may decide to not allow comments on what we consider to be a controversial or contentious story. As we are legally liable for any libellous or defamatory comments made on our website, this move is for our protection as well as that of our readers.

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