European Commission defends Irish data watchdog in letter to MEPs

Data Protection Commissioner has been under pressure over allegations of weakness

The State's Data Protection Commission (DPC) has received a rare show of support from Brussels. Didier Reynders, the European Union's commissioner for justice, has defended the performance of the Irish data regulator in a letter to Dutch and German MEPs who alleged the DPC goes too easy on Big Tech platforms, such as Facebook and Google.

The DPC, run by data regulator Helen Dixon, has been under pressure for months at home and abroad over allegations it is weak and slow at enforcing European Union GDPR data and privacy rules on large technology multinationals. The Republic is the primary regulator of Silicon Valley companies in the EU, as many of them have their European headquarters here. Ms Dixon has repeatedly and strenuously rejected the criticisms while also seeking more resources from the Government to regulate Big Tech.

On December 6th, two Dutch MEPs, Sophie in 't Veld and Tineke Strik, and two from Germany, Cornelia Ernst and Birgit Sippel, wrote to Mr Reynders asking him to open infringement proceedings against Ireland over the perceived weakness of the supervision of GDPR rules here.

He has replied to the MEPs stating that the DPC faces “complex” matters, including in an issue over the targeting of ads by social media companies. The Irish regulator has supported the idea of allowing social media companies to target users with adverts without their consent, on the basis of rules governing the performance of a contract. Many other European national data regulators oppose this stance and some have criticised the DPC’s position.

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Contract law

However, Mr Reynders reminded the MEPs that the issue of advert targeting as it pertains to Facebook has already been referred to the EU’s court of justice in the context of contract law, essentially backing the Irish regulator’s decision to weigh the issue carefully.

He also backed the DPC by dismissing criticism that it is running late in its handling of 98 per cent of cross-border privacy cases: “The figure about the proportion of cases dealt by the Irish DPC mentioned in your letter appears to be a misinterpretation of the statistic.”

The 98 per cent figure was first raised by the Irish Council for Civil Liberties last year, but the DPC has said it is "inaccurate".

In response to the calls for the commission to take action against the DPC, Mr Reynders told the MEPs that he had not “identified issues with the Irish data protection rules or have evidence that these rules have not been respected”.

Mark Paul

Mark Paul

Mark Paul is Business Affairs Correspondent of The Irish Times. He also writes the Caveat column