Parkrun Freedom of Information Act Release: Public Policy Gone Bad

Parkrun is an organization that coordinates a series of 5km runs for the public.  Crucially, there is no charge for participating in these runs, and this has contributed to over 1 million people registering themselves as runners.  It does good, doesn’t take a profit, and generally is regarded as a Good Thing.

Generally, the locations at which these runs take place are happy for the exposure, and local restaurants, coffee shops and pubs are also happy for the passing trade caused by the events.

However, this all changed earlier in the year when Stoke Gifford Parish Council decided to charge for the event.  Quite what the grounds were for the charge were unclear, but the Council have now disclosed to me the grounds for their action.  It is worth noting that the Council did not comply with section 10(1) of the Freedom of Information Act, nor to a first reminder issued by the Information Commissioner’s Office.

The released documents are here.  I have redacted personal email addresses and phone numbers that were included in the documents.  Despite asking for all information, the Council stated: ‘Please note the majority of e-mail communication received was from Parkrun runners personal e-mail addresses, and will therefore not be published.’

The case boils down to a matter of national vs local public policy: the UK government want people to get moving, and the parish council don’t want to pay for it (or rather, want to be paid for it).

Parkrun set out (through their lawyers) the legal basis for their case.  Oddly, the Parish Council does not appear to have disclosed their reply (if any) to the lawyers.  It is good to see letters from the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government and from the local MP.

The Parish Council set out what at first glance appears to be a rather odd justification of charging under section 19 of the Local Government Act 1976 (which, incidentally, is an act of Parliament of Malaysia – presumably they (the Secretary of State and the Parish Council) mean the Local Government Act (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1976): that as the runners run on a cycle track, and as such this gives them a right to charge for this (para 19b); or premises for the use of clubs or societies having athletic, social, or recreational objects (para 19d); or facilities in connection with any other recrational facilities (ps who writes this stuff?) (para 19f).

Pretty weak justifications in my view.  Particularly when HM Secretary of State gives you a pretty big hint that you are out of order.

Parkrun’s lawyers suggest that they may request a judicial review of the decision.  And maybe this would be a good time for Parkrun runners to fund such a review.  Not just for this case, but for the general principle of local authorities’ interests vs. the national interest.


The Curious Case of #TrainGate

Jeremy Corbyn, the current leader of the Labour Party in the UK, took a train and did/did not sit down.  Or rather did/did not sit down on a comfy chair.

Now, for most of us, that would not be much of a story, but tonight it is the most read story on the BBC website.

And it all comes down to these images:

Virgin press officJC045 - pixilated redactede caption: CCTV footage shows Mr Corbyn returning to Coach H and sitting down at 11.43am, shortly after being filmed while sat on the floor and more than 2hrs before his final destination, Newcastle (I have removed images of other passengers)


Virgin press office caption: CCTJC016 - VTEC#12316 Camera 3#11-08-2016 10_11_37.38 redactedV footage shows Mr Corbyn walking past reserved but empty seats at 11.08am in Coach F (I have removed images of other passengers).

Anyway, the crux of it is that the Labour party implies there were no seats, and Virgin trains implies there were.  The interesting thing is that CCTV images were released into the public domain, and the (presumably) commercial thoughts that went into that decision.

Virgin Trains Privacy Policy

Is here.  And I doubt anyone has read it.  I mean, who decides which train to catch on the basis of a privacy policy?

Anyway, there’s a whole section on CCTV.  The only relevant bit seems to be ‘In certain circumstances we may need to disclose CCTV images for legal reasons.’  A bit weak for disclosing the images on their website to the whole world.  But, some clever privacy person has added:

‘We employ CCTV on our trains and in our stations in order to:

  • prevent, deter and detect crime
  • apprehend and prosecute offenders, and provide evidence to take civil action in the courts
  • help provide a safer environment for our staff
  • protect public safety
  • help to provide improved customer service, for example by enabling staff to see customers requiring assistance
  • monitor operational and safety related incidents
  • assist with the verification of claims.’

More on that later.

The Information Commissioner

The Information Commissioner’s Data protection code of practice for surveillance cameras and personal information sets out that ‘Disclosure of information from surveillance systems must be controlled and consistent with the purpose(s) for which the system was established.’.

‘The method of disclosing information should be secure to ensure they are only seen by the intended recipient.’

Now, you could argue that Virgin intended the recipient to be the whole world.  And that the system was established to assist with the verification of claims.

And there are no criminal issues: the Crown Prosecution Service is only interested if you obtain data without the consent of the data controller.  (Virgin are the data controller, and released the data, so that doesn’t work.)  Or if they sell personal data.  (They didn’t – they gave it away for free.)

The Moral of the Story

Read those privacy policies.  And don’t make a claim against Virgin Trains.  Otherwise you may find yourself on the pages of the tabloid newspapers.

Update 24 August 2016: The Guardian reports that the Information Commissioner is investigating whether the release of CCTV images by Virgin Trains breaches the Act.  Interestingly, they do not say that they did – and it all comes down to interpretation of the Rules.  Given that the bold paragraph is in Virgin’s privacy policy, it will be interesting to see whether this is enough to not be caught by the Rules.  Watch this space, and in the meantime, the EU General Data Protection Regulation is soon to be upon us (at least for the time in which the UK is part of the EU).  With penalties of 4% of worldwide turnover, it would be interesting to see if such a PR gamble would take place under the new regime.