Irish block EU plan to allow data transfer to Israel

Thu, Jul 8, 2010, 01:00

THE GOVERNMENT has moved to block a European Commission initiative to allow the transfer to Israel and storage there of sensitive personal data on European citizens.

The intervention by Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern reflects “profound concern” over transfers being made following the use of eight fake Irish passports by the alleged Israeli assassins of Hamas operative Mahmoud al-Mabhouh.

Dubai police have accused Israel’s intelligence agency Mossad of orchestrating the killing using fraudulent British, French, German and Australian passports along with the fake Irish passports. Israel has neither confirmed nor denied involvement.

The commission wanted European governments to approve a declaration that the EU recognises Israeli data protection standards as being sufficient to allow member states to transfer such personal data to Israel. Two days ago, however, Irish officials called for the termination of the procedure under which EU governments were to endorse the commission’s declaration. Without such a declaration, the transfer of personal data to Israel is prohibited.

“It may well be the case that Israel provides data protections which meet EU standards,” said a spokesman for Mr Ahern.

“But the Minister believes the EU committee has to take very serious account of the forgery of EU passports – including Irish ones – by Israel in recent months.

“Personal data provided innocently to Israeli officials by Irish citizens was used in forging passports. Other EU countries, particularly the UK, had similar experiences and that is a matter of the gravest concern.”

The Government, which last month expelled an official from the Israeli embassy in Dublin as a result of the affair, believes the data used in the forged Irish documents was gleaned from the official inspection of travellers’ passports. Because of its formal objection to the declaration, EU governments will be asked to debate the issue in a committee that deals with protection of personal data.

The commission sought to push ahead with the declaration by way of a written procedure after a meeting of the committee where there was no quorum. Under the “silence” procedure in question, the decision to make the declaration would have taken effect automatically if no member state had raised an objection by Tuesday’s deadline. “There will now have to be a full hearing of the proposal at the . . . committee where Ireland will be able to voice our profound concerns at such a proposal,” Mr Ahern’s spokesman said.

The intervention reflects serious concern in Government circles that any formal decision by the EU to declare itself satisfied with the standards of data protection in Israel would be sensitive politically. This would be difficult for the public to understand, the Government believes.

Although Garda and Passport Office investigations discovered “no additional evidence” linking the forged Irish passports to Israel, the Government concluded that an official Israeli agency was responsible for the “misuse and, most likely, the manufacture” of the forged Irish passports.