Rape Crisis Network urges proper consideration of new data Bill

Group concerned at lack of resources for protection of victims of sexual violence

Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald published the General Scheme of the Data Protection Bill 2017 on Friday. Photograph: Dave Meehan/The Irish Times

Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald published the General Scheme of the Data Protection Bill 2017 on Friday. Photograph: Dave Meehan/The Irish Times

 

The Government must show that it respects citizens’ right to privacy by giving proper consideration to a major new data protection Bill, an advocacy group for survivors of sexual violence has said.

Tánaiste and Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald and Minister for Data Protection Dara Murphy published the general scheme of the Data Protection Bill last Friday.

Rape Crisis Network Ireland, an information and resource centre on rape and sexual violence, has in recent months expressed concerns about the handling of data by Tusla, the child and family agency.

It has expressed concern that the type of data being required by the agency may put rape survivors at risk of being identified.

RCNI has also raised at UN level the requirement for a reliable database and statistics on domestic and sexual violence in the State.

The Bill published last week will implement aspects of the new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), due to come into force across the EU in May 2018, as well as a directive on the sharing of data between law enforcement bodies.

The GDPR updates the EU’s 22-year-old data protection laws and provides for fines of up to €20 million or 4 per cent of annual worldwide turnover where the privacy rights of citizens are breached.

RCNI executive director Cliona Saidlear said the organisation had made “a number of enquiries” and it appeared that no Oireachtas Committee had yet been designated to debate and scrutinise the draft scheme.

‘A poor start indeed’

“For a piece of legislation giving further effect to the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) which the Tánaiste acknowledges ‘is intended to encourage a cultural shift’ and the preparation into which will involve an intensification of awareness raising, this would seem to be a poor start indeed,” she said.

She asked how the Government could help the business and voluntary sector to get ready for the legislation “when the Oireachtas doesn’t seem to be prepared to even debate the Bill”.

Dr Saidlear said the increased consumer trust the Tánaiste spoke of last week in the context of the new EU legislation was “critical” but went “much deeper than a person’s interaction with the data economy”.

“It extends to the trust we all put in the institutions of the state to protect, serve and vindicate our rights and dignity while preserving our right to privacy,” she said.

“It includes the trust vulnerable people put into services such as the survivor of sexual violence who comes to an NGO like a rape crisis centre, who does not consent to her child’s school knowing that, never mind what she bought last Friday in the local supermarket.”

Dr Saidlear said the Government must demonstrate it respected “the right to privacy and the autonomy of individuals”.

It must ensure that priority and proper consideration, as well as the necessary resources, were given to issues of data protection, she added.

“Government and the Oireachtas prioritising people’s fundamental rights in the social contract is the measure of the quality of our democracy and we must do better.”

Under the draft scheme of the Bill published last week, Government departments and public bodies would be exempt from potentially huge fines for breaches of EU data protection law, unless their infringements relate to a commercial activity.

The Tánaiste noted the regulation sought to ensure a uniform level of data protection across the EU and a level playing field for those doing business in the single digital market.

Mr Murphy said the Bill would provide “a unique legislative opportunity for Ireland to reinforce our robust regulatory environment – to protect individuals and to provide certainty for business and the public sector”.

Awareness-raising activities in Ireland and across the EU, targeted at business and the voluntary sector, were beginning to intensify ahead of the May 2018.