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Everything Freemasons need to know about the General Data Protection Regulation

Tuesday, 11 September 2018

Freemasonry on file

With new data protection laws putting personal data, privacy and consent in the crosshairs, Donald Taylor, Head of Legal Services at UGLE, explains the impact on the day-to-day running of lodge business

What do Freemasons need to know about the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)?

There’s been a lot of foolishness from other organisations about data protection, but actually not a lot has changed. Members entrust us with their data, and we always strive to be worthy of that trust. That was the case before the new law and it’s the case now. So, we are determined to comply with the law in a way that minimises red tape, as we really don’t want to impose new burdens on our members except where absolutely necessary.

How does Grand Lodge currently use data?

We use data in the way Freemasons would expect, which is to facilitate the administration of the organisation. At the United Grand Lodge of England (UGLE), we have a data protection policy that explains how we use the data – that is set out on the website. The important things to remember are that we never sell data and we never share it outside Freemasonry without the individual’s consent. 

What about lodges? Do they need a policy?

All lodges should adopt a data protection notice. We have circulated to Metropolitan Grand Lodge, Provinces and Districts a template data protection notice for lodges together with draft guidance in the form of a Q&A for lodge Secretaries. The template will need to be adapted by each lodge if it holds or uses data for any purpose not covered by the template. The notice must contain contact details so that lodge members can ask queries or request a copy of their personal data.

What else do lodge Secretaries need to know?

Essentially, members’ details should only be used for normal masonic activities relating to the lodge, such as issuing summonses, arranging Almoner visits, chasing subscription payments or lodge committee business. There are also the activities relating to the Metropolitan Grand Lodge, Provinces, Districts or UGLE, such as submitting annual returns or contributing to disciplinary processes. 

Any other use of details held by the lodge requires the consent of the individual. For example, the lodge mailing list should not be used to circulate requests for charity donations except for those on the list who have provided their consent to receive such requests. If a lodge circulates its summonses by email, care should be taken not to reveal email addresses to other members.

Should a Freemason be concerned if they haven’t heard from their local lodge?

Most lodges will not need to contact their members in relation to data protection. Normally a lodge will not require explicit new consents to use your data for ordinary masonic activities.

What about Almoners?

Almoners sometimes hold data about people’s health or finances. This is sensitive information that requires a slightly different approach. We are preparing specific guidance for Almoners that we are aiming to circulate to Metropolitan Grand Lodge, Provinces and Districts soon.

Does a lodge Secretary need to obtain individual consent from lodge members or new joiners? 

The standard application forms collect the necessary consents. There’s no need to obtain consents from existing members for normal lodge business.

The crucial point to remember is that what was once a matter of courtesy and common sense is now a matter of law. People need to act sensibly, and masons can take responsibility themselves regarding masonic data. For instance, if they print out information or get a printed copy of their lodge summons, they should shred it or dispose of it in another responsible way. 

Similarly, if masons have taken photographs at a private event such as a lodge meal or other masonic gathering and wish to publish them online, they need to check that everybody captured in the photograph is happy with this.

So, it’s business as usual?

The key message is that while there has been some running around behind the scenes to make sure we are compliant – and everyone needs to continue to think carefully about how they store or use other masons’ data – nothing should change for most members’ experiences.

To find out more, go to the UGLE data protection notice, or contact your Metropolitan Grand Lodge, Province or District.