Genealogy and protecting data

 

Sir, – I refer to your editorial entitled “Protecting data” in The Irish Times of July 23rd.

You state: “For more than a year, irishgenealogy.ie offered online access to the personal details of every citizen born, or who married, in the State.” This statement is factually incorrect. The Indexes to Civil Records held by the General Register Office were launched on the www.irishgenealogy.ie website portal just three weeks ago – on July 3rd, 2014 – by the Tánaiste and Minister for Social Protection and the then Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht. The portal was set up to assist those, whether at home or abroad, who wish to trace their roots and establish their family history.

The provision of access to the Indexes to Civil Records was a joint project between the Department of Social Protection, the General Register Office and this Department. The records were supplied to this Department by the General Register Office in accordance with the terms of a Memorandum of Understanding agreed between both parties. The addition of the Indexes was seen as a major contribution to the www.irishgenealogy.ie website and was warmly welcomed by genealogy researchers, including your own contributor Mr John Grehan in his Irish Roots column (July 7th, 2014), who described the development as “good news” and “simply astonishing”.

Your editorial also states: “How surprising then that a genealogy database, under the control of a Government Department – the Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht – was operated in breach of data protection laws.” This statement is misleading as the Department has not, in fact, been found to be in breach of any data protection legislation.

The position is that on July 18th last, this Department was contacted by the Office of the Data Protection Commissioner, expressing concerns about the availability of personal data in relation to living persons on the website. We responded promptly by disabling access to this data on a “without prejudice” basis so that the nature of the concerns expressed by the Office of the Data Protection Commissioner could be examined further.

This Department will continue to engage proactively and responsibly with the Office of the Data Protection Commissioner, the Department of Social Protection and the General Register Office with a view to ensuring that any issues of concern are fully addressed as soon as possible. – Yours, etc,

HELEN FRANCIS,

Press Office,

Department of Arts,

Heritage and the Gaeltacht,

Dublin 2