Dixon defends data regulator from MEPs’ attack

Data Protection Commissioner says critics are ‘misinformed’ and challenges numbers

* Data protection chief Helen Dixon dismissed claims at the weekend that her organisation lobbied EU data protection authorities to ease rules for big tech companies.

Several members of the European Parliament (MEPs) recently wrote to the EU authorities and Minister for Justice Helen McEntee accusing the Irish Data Protection Commission (DPC) of lobbying for lower standards for big tech.

Ms Dixon, the commission's chief executive, told RTÉ radio's This Week programme on Sunday that the organisation did not accept the European politicians' charge.

“They’re misinformed,” she said. Ms Dixon maintained that the MEPs had repeated unfounded allegations against the DPC and quoted statistics that did not reflect its work.

The letter – from two Dutch MEPs, Liberal Sophie in 't Veld and Green Party representative Tineke Strik; and Germany's Social Democrat Birgit Sippel and Left Party's Cornelia Ernst – asked why legal proceedings had been launched against Belgium's DPC "but not against other member states, including Ireland".

Ms Dixon dubbed as “completely meaningless” claims from the Irish Council for Civil Liberties that the DPC had reached draft decisions on just 2 per cent of 164 privacy cases referred to it.

“The figures are actually that, since the GDPR came into application, the DPC has handled 18,000 cases, resolved over 15,000 and these are reported in our annual reports and elsewhere. Of those, 1,300 are cross-border cases of which over 700 were resolved,” Ms Dixon said.

‘Weak spot’

She also denied that the European Court of Justice had accused the Irish commission of general inertia, saying the particular remarks were not a reference to the Irish DPC.

The DPC is responsible for policing the data-retention activities of tech giants, including Facebook, Google, Apple and others whose European headquarters are in the State.

A recent Bloomberg opinion piece, published in the New York Times, among others, described the Republic as the "weak spot" in Europe's ambition to lead the world on data protection.

Ms Dixon argued that this view frequently tied data protection in the Republic to the State’s low-tax regime, which is meant to lure multinational investment. She noted that, in 2019, another publication, Politico, published a more damning piece, since “roundly debunked”, claiming the DPC was set up to support industrial development in the Republic, not to protect individuals’ rights.

Ms Dixon accused opinion writers of simply repeating the same sources and quoting incorrect statistics.

* This article was edited on Monday, December 13th, 2021