I thought I’d said my last word on GDPR – and was generally feeling that GDPR was quite a good thing actually, even if it has been a bit of a tedious process. I’m all for safeguarding people’s personal data.
But, as someone famous once said (I can’t remember who – probably lots of people, come to think of it) – laws often have unintended consequences. And the application of GDPR appears to have thrown up a consequence that I cannot in all good conscience live with.
Believe me, I don’t take breaking the law lightly. Having grown up in a number of places where there was one law for the rich and another for the poor, I am immensely grateful to live under a legal system that is, in general, fair and fairly upheld. And therefore I believe that one should always obey the law, whether or not one agrees with it. If people could pick and choose what to obey and what to ignore, the whole system would crumble. After all, if you don’t think a law is fair, you can campaign to change it – but I don’t believe one should break it in the meantime.
So, to the unintended consequence – and please forgive me for using this blog for an issue that is not directly related to the corporate world.
I was sitting in church the other day tuning out of the notices at the end of the Sunday service, when the vicar read out the inevitable GDPR request: ‘Please fill in the form at the back of the church so that we can keep you on our roll’. Yeah, yeah, blah, blah, it’s the end of May, whatever. But then he added ‘and please note that we are no longer allowed to pray for people by name’.
I thought I’d misheard, as did everyone else. After all, praying for other people is one of the principal duties of a Christian. And not just for people you love, but – often more importantly – for those you don’t. The weekly prayer list, published on the Sunday service sheet and read out at services all through the week, is central to this duty.
But it seems that the Church of England has been advised (by whom, one wonders?) that we may not pray for people by name, whether printed on the service sheet or read out during a service, unless they have given their prior consent in writing. Which, as you can imagine, is utterly ludicrous.
Many of the people we pray for couldn’t give their consent even if they wanted to – prisoners like Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe for example, who lives in our parish when not imprisoned in Iran; people ill or dying in hospital; and, of course, the dead (although, come to think of it, GDPR stops short of the afterlife). Then there are those who would never give their consent, but whom we must pray for – people like jihadis for example, who avowedly hate us.
Let’s be honest, it’s unlikely that such people would take the Church to court for infringing their privacy, but nonetheless, being the institution that it is, and part of the legal fabric of this country, it has a duty to uphold the law.
I must admit I’d like to see a more robust challenge by our bishops in the face of this most un-Christian directive. But until such time as this consequence of GDPR is changed, I believe that – and forgive me if this sounds a little self-righteous – ordinary members such as myself must stand up for our Christian duty and continue to pray publicly for those in need.
Perhaps if enough of us make a noise about it (this blog being part of my noise, thank you for listening), this crazy situation can be put to rights. And with it will come the happy consequence that I may rejoin the ranks of the law-abiding.