Boffin breaches Data Protection Act and gets embroiled in family drama

Lancaster University reprimanded its head of economics professor Geraint Johnes for breaching data protection rules by telling a concerned mother about her son’s performance.

According to a report in the Times Higher Education Supplement, the student’s mother Jackie Gardner e-mailed Johnes in April for details of her son Christian’s performance saying: “I, very wrongly it seems, assumed that he would be fully engaged… he is now quite addicted to alcohol, smokes and has spent a great deal of time over the last nine months asleep.” She also complained that her son had told her that he received just three hours of lectures a week.

Johnes replied, giving details of Gardner’s workload – including four hours’ weekly contact time and regular project meetings.

When Christian Gardner heard of the exchange he complained to the university that it had released data without his consent.

Its data protection officer Andrew Okey confirmed the breach and wrote to Johnes and warned him that any further “illicit disclosures” would be reported to the university’s HR department.

Christian Gardner said: Other parents had telephoned and been told the university could not say whether a student was alive or dead, so I was very surprised a full list of my courses was disclosed to my mother without contacting me first.”

However, his mother said: “As someone who is helping to fund him I do believe I have a right to know whether he is getting value for money.”

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