Santa’s Surveillance is Legally Shonky

“He behaves so much better at this time of year”, confided the friendly mum at toddler group.

“Every time he’s disobedient, I tell him Santa is watching, and he stops it straightaway”.

I nodded, but her story made me sad. When I was a child, Santa was a twinkly-eyed superhero, a bearded wonder who sped round the world in one night, leaving fabulous gifts in his wake. A Santa who supervises rather than surprises seems like a sorry sort of Santa to me.

But I think he might need to rethink his approach. Because I’ve got news for you, Santa: there are laws about this sort of thing. Under the UK Data Protection Act 1998, you’re a Data Controller, and as such you have to register with the Information Commissioner. Newsflash, Santa, I checked the register, and you’re not on it. Know what that means? It’s a £500 fine, pal. Plus costs, so you’re looking at a couple of grand, easy. Bet you don’t fancy explaining that to Mrs Claus.

You’re also required to tell people you’re processing their personal information. So where’s your notification, Santa? The way I understand it, you ought to have a sign up in the bedroom of every child in the land, making clear that your agents and sub-contractors (like those Elf on the Shelf dolls that have infiltrated our homes) are conducting surveillance. Slipped your mind? Didn’t listen to your lawyer? That’s an unlimited fine right there, matey.

And what kind of a database must Santa have? At a minimum, his system must log:

– Details of every child’s behaviour

– Letters received and presents requested

– Decision on naughty/nice category and gift awarded. Eg “punched cat in nose so can’t have Nintendo DS. Little Minx album instead”.

Plus names, addresses, ages and who knows what else. This is some serious data storage, and Principle 7 of the Act makes clear there’d better be proper security. As VTech recently found out, just because you’re storing data about kids doesn’t mean hackers won’t come after you.

Come to think of it, where are subject access rights in all this? We can all ask to see the data an organisation holds on us, and have it corrected if necessary. Why aren’t kids bombarding Father Christmas with subject access requests, and challenging his shonky illegally-held records?

“I may have dissected my sister’s My Little Pony, Santa, but you need to update your records to show that she’d stuck sprouts up my nose, so she totally deserved it.”

I’ve checked, Santa. There are no exemptions in the Act for jolly, white-bearded patriarchs. Unless you want to argue that you’re operating in the interests of national security, and that’s a case I’d love to hear in court.

So kids, don’t listen to your parents. Whether you’re naughty or nice, Santa’s wide open to legal challenge if he starts withholding gifts. Assuming he doesn’t want the chink of jingle bells to be replaced by the clink of handcuffs, he’ll have to keep the presents coming.

Merry Christmas!

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