The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) is yet to establish if the leak of CCTV footage that exposed Matt Hancock’s affair was in the public interest, despite the Prime Minister declaring it was.
Elizabeth Denham, the Information Commissioner, said she recognised the importance of a free press and of the rights of whistleblowers, but insisted ICO had a “statutory responsibility” to investigate the circumstances surrounding the alleged data breach.
Last week, officers from the ICO raided two homes in the south of England and seized computer equipment as part of an investigation into the leak.
Defending the action, Ms Denham said it was important to establish the facts surrounding the alleged data breach.
She said: “The public interest turns on us establishing the facts in this case, so it’s important that we go in and we look at the facts and only then will we make a determination as to whether this data breach was in the public interest.”
But speaking after the raid, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said Boris Johnson believed in the importance of a free press being able to investigate matters that are in the public interest.
Mr Hancock was forced to resign last month after footage of him sharing an intimate kiss with his lover, Gina Coladangelo – who was also a paid Department of Health and Social Care official – was leaked to The Sun newspaper.
The footage, pictured below, is understood to have been captured by a CCTV camera inside Mr Hancock’s office.
The ICO was called in by EMCOR Group (UK) plc, the company which provides the CCTV network at the Department for Health and Social Care, in a bid to identify those responsible.
Ms Denham, who insisted she was passionate about a free press, said: “There is a lot of concern in the security community and among the public that their personal information collected on CCTV is used for security purposes.
“On the one hand, we have the security stakeholders saying, ‘Get in there and investigate’ and on the other side people somehow think we’re investigating The Sun or journalists and we are not, we’re looking at whether or not there was a contravention of the law, the data protection law.”
The ICO has the power to impose an unlimited fine if someone is convicted of an offence under the Data Protection Act 2018.