Home Lifestyle Culture NORWAY: Data Protection Authority opening a case against Jehovah’s Witnesses

NORWAY: Data Protection Authority opening a case against Jehovah’s Witnesses

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Data Protection Authority investigating Jehovah's Witnesses
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The Data Inspectorate will investigate whether Jehovah’s Witnesses store information about members’ sex lives.

Originally posted on NRK.no in Norwegian on February 17, 2021 by Inger Sunde (@inger_sunde)

“This case is entirely at the heart of privacy”, says director of Data Protection, Bjørn Erik Thon. “Information of a sexual nature is particularly protected by the privacy regulations.”

Fears illegal storage

Thon and the Norwegian Data Protection Agency will now investigate whether Jehovah’s Witnesses store information in violation of these regulations.

After the documentary series “God’s Chosen One” from NRK Brennpunkt, the Data Protection Authority received several complaints. Members and former members blamed the threatening community for inadequate access, illegal storage and lack of deletion of personal data.

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Bjorn Erik Thon
Director of the Danish Data Protection Agency, Bjørn Erik Thon.

“It is very rare that we get complaints about religious communities. This is the first time we are starting such a comprehensive case on the processing of personal data in a religious group”, says Thon.

The Norwegian Data Protection Authority shall also investigate whether the religious organization has withheld stored information, follows regulations for deletion of data, and fulfills the right of access.

Sexual details

“I am incredibly happy to hear that the Data Protection Authority is taking action”, says Louise Myrland.

In “God’s Chosen One”, she and Ida Kårhus told that older men in the panty community asked detailed questions about their sex life.

Ida Kårhus and Louise Myrland
Ida Kårhus and Louise Myrland told their story in the documentary series “God’s chosen”.
PHOTO: OLE JØRGEN KOLSTADBRÅTEN / NRK

Such interrogations are a well-known practice of Jehovah’s Witnesses. If there is a suspicion that members have broken the internal rules, they must appear before a so-called judicial committee.

Ida and Louise were teenagers when they were called in. The aim of the interrogation was to find out if they had sinned against the sexual community’s sexual morality.

Confidential archives

In the work on the documentary series, NRK leaked internal documents. Here it was stated, among other things, that summaries from interrogations in the selection of judgments should be stored in the religious organization’s confidential archives.

When this became known, several people reacted. Someone contacted the Data Protection Authority. They feared that information about their sex life was stored in the archives of Jehovah’s Witnesses.

“I want my folder”

Louise Myrland
Louise Myrland wants to know what is stored about her.PHOTO: OLE JØRGEN KOLSTADBRÅTEN / NRK

Louise did not know that the organization stored information about her until she was in the documentary. During the recording, she asked for insight. She got an answer. But the answer did not say anything about the summary from the jury.

“I think they have withheld information. They do not do everything according to the book”, says Louise.

“It is difficult for an individual to demand anything from such a powerful organization as Jehovah’s Witnesses. I would very much rather have my entire folder handed out. I do not want them to have any information stored about me.”

No guarantee

Now the Data Protection Authority will do its part to find out what is stored. And whether the organization breaks the rules of privacy.

“Our goal is to make the right decision. If we suspect that information is being withheld, we have tools that can be used”, says Thon.

NRK has not had success in getting a comment from Jehovah’s Witnesses. The organization has previously stated to NRK that they handle personal data in accordance with Norwegian law.

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Jason Wynne is a husband to one wife, father to two children, and writes extensively on the activities of Jehovah's Witnesses having been baptized as a member in 1995.

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