New data protection laws are being wrongly used to stop councillors getting information about their local areas, it’s been claimed.
Peter Gruen, the former deputy leader of Leeds City Council, said that the way General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) was currently being applied by authorities was a “total nonsense”.
GDPR was brought in by the government last year to improve citizens’ rights around their personal details and to increase transparency around how and where people’s data is stored.
But Coun Gruen, who represents the Cross Gates and Whinmoor ward, said he was frustrated at being denied information from council officers and the police on the grounds it may potentially break the law.
Elected members from Bradford and Wakefield echoed his concerns, which were expressed at a West Yorkshire Police and Crime Panel meeting on Friday.
Coun Gruen compared panic around GDPR to that which surrounded the Millennium Bug in the late 1990s, when it was feared computers would glitch with disastrous conseequences upon reaching the year 2000.
He said: “In that event, all that happened was IT companies got very rich overnight.
“Similarly, what’s happening now is that lawyers are getting very rich through interpreting what GDPR means.
“At the moment, everyone is taking the most risk averse approach possible, and everybody clams up.
“Eventually common sense will prevail and will realise that this is all total nonsense. It's there to protect individuals' data. It isn't meant to be about, "We can't share (any) data"."
Coun Gruen said that councillors should be trusted to use information in a "proper manner" and bemoaned being told to leave a recent meeting with council officers and the police on data protection grounds.
Panel chair Mohammed Iqbal, who is also a Leeds councillor, said he’d also been excluded from that meeting, and added that the episode was “embarrassing”.
Wakefield councillor Stuart Heptinstall, said he'd had a similar experience, having previously said in July he was receiving a "disturbing" lack of information from local police.
He told the meeting: "It's difficult to get a picture of what's going on in my ward, whether it's to do with parking, drugs or anything else.
"Residents are telling me what's happening before the police are. It's embarrassing."
Local Democracy Reporting Service