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Data Protection Commission Supports Freedom of Information Act
By Gena Gibbs, BIS
Nov 17, 2015 - 1:06:13 PM

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NASSAU, The Bahamas -- Implementing the Freedom of Information legislation is important to the Bahamas Government because it requires careful balance and consideration to ensure that individual privacy and personal data are protected in this digital and Information Age.

"The office of Data Protection takes its mandate to provide public education and create public awareness most seriously. Each year, we seek to address topical national issues that affect data protection. This year, the Government of The Bahamas released its consultative draft Bill on Freedom of Information," said Sharmie Farrington Austin, Bahamas Data Protection Commissioner.

The Office of the Data Protection Commissioner held the Third Annual National Data Protection Training Symposium, November 13, under the theme "The Balancing Act: Data Protection & Freedom of Information" in the Ballroom of Melia Nassau Beach Resort. The Conclave featured panelist experts from various areas of government discussing the way forward in preparing for legalizing a Bahamian Freedom of Information Act to move this Office towards becoming a regional hub for data protection regionally and internationally.

"The balancing act also reflects the need to balance other matters of national importance, which includes the balance between security and privacy. That is, the need to protect our country in the interest of national security while ensuring that the privacy rights of citizens are not violated," said Mrs. Austin.

"There is no question that a 21st century world requires that government information become more accessible and the demand for open governance is heralded. While the citizenry must be provided with the most efficient ways of doing business, taking advantage of technological advancements, we must remain cognizant that the data used, collected, obtained and disseminated, must remain secure. Adequate safeguards should be provided to protect against accidental loss and to ensure that such systems do not lend themselves to abuse, for example, fraud and identity theft."

Mrs. Austin said educational forums such as this is not intended to stir controversy but rather the opposite, to educate, to enlighten and most importantly provide industry experts with an opportunity to provide solutions to complex national issues.

"As technocrats, administrators and enforcers, our role is a simple one. We are to provide the legislators and policy makers with neutral and professional advice," said Mrs. Austin.

Mrs. Austin noted that the Data Protection Commissioner’s Office has made significant strides: “we have been able to form and strengthen regulatory ties with both our regional and international partners, in particular the Cayman Islands Information Commissioner's Office, the U.K. Information Commissioner's Office and very shortly it is our hope to further solidify our regulatory ties with the Federal Trade Commission of the United States of America."

In addition, the Data Protection Commission has also introduced the National Symposium, a National Privacy Week, and a Family Island Awareness Program.

"We hope to introduce a National Privacy School Congress in which we will target school children in the month of September. It is our hope that school children at all levels will be engaged throughout the month of September in, debates, technological competitions and essay writings. The month of activities will culminate with the Congress where schools and students will be able to discuss privacy issues affecting them. We invite all stakeholders to join us in this most important endeavour," said Mrs. Austin.

Speeches and presentations were made by the Prime Minister, the Rt. Hon. Perry Christie; the Minister of Education, the Hon. Jerome Fitzgerald; State Minister for Finance, the Hon. Michael Halkitis; the U.K. Information Commissioner, Christopher Graham; Cayman Islands Information Commissioner, Jan Liebaers; National Insurance Board Director & Vice Chair of United Nations Committee of Experts & Public Administration, Rowena Bethel; NIB Deputy Director of Information Technology, Dr. Raymond Wells; Sr. Vice-President & CIO of Atlantis, Bernard Gay; Owner & Managing Director of Sunryse Shredding Services, Christiaan Sawyer; Web Programming Instructor, Kino Lockhart; and President of the Bahamas Press Club, Anthony Newbold.

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