State’s data watchdog criticised with ‘Big Brother’ award

German privacy groups claim Irish regulator behind ‘sabotage’ of EU data privacy laws

The State’s data privacy watchdog has received a ‘lifetime achievement’ award under Germany’s ‘Big Brother Awards’. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

The State’s data privacy watchdog has received a “lifetime achievement” award under Germany’s “Big Brother Awards” that are selected by data privacy activists for groups that are seen to be harming data protection rights.

The Data Protection Commission was heavily criticised in a lengthy citation in the awards that are organised by the Germany privacy and digital rights group Digitalcourage along with the German Association for Data Protection and other data privacy campaigners.

The Irish regulator, the EU-wide regulator for many US Big Tech multinationals as a result of their Dublin-based European headquarters, was criticised by the organisers of the awards for what they claimed is the “continued sabotage of efforts to enforce European data protection law”.

"Under the authority's care, Ireland has become a haven for surveillance capitalism business models by Facebook, Google, Apple, Microsoft, Oracle and Salesforce, " the award summary says.

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"The Irish Data Protection Commission blocks the enforcement of established law – through years of delay, de-facto refusal to process complaints, bureaucratic tricks, deterrent costs for complainants and lack of cooperation with European colleagues," the citation says.

The State regulator has long been criticised by data privacy campaigners in Europe, notably in Germany, over claims that it has been soft on regulating Big Tech industry that generates large numbers of jobs and significant tax revenues for the Government.

Regulator response

Responding to the latest criticism, a spokesman for the DPC dismissed the assertions made by the organisers of the German awards, saying that the watchdog’s recent 2021 annual report, a report on the handling of cross-border complaints under GDPR and an independent audit report all demonstrate that the Irish DPC was “clearly delivering in terms of its application of the GDPR”.

He said the regulator, which has an annual budget of €23 million, had levied fines of more than €240 million against three Big Tech firms – WhatsApp, Facebook and Twitter – and that six draft decisions on more potential fines had been circulated to fellow EU regulators for sign-off.

The DPC points to the requirements under the GDPR that it consult with other data protection authorities prior to a fine being imposed on a Big Tech player as a reason for delays.

The commission, headed by Helen Dixon, has been criticised for the pace and scale of investigations into the tech multinationals since the EU-wide data protection rules under the General Data Protection Regulation came into effect almost four years ago.

Ms Dixon has repeatedly and vociferously defended the record of her regulatory authority against these criticisms, pointing to the results so far achieved by the DPC and the challenges of meeting the onerous requirements of the GDPR against the risk of litigation by tech multinationals.

Nineteen countries run Big Brother Awards – named after the character from author George Orwell’s novel Nineteen Eighty-Four – to highlight the risks to personal privacy and data protection.

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell is News Editor of The Irish Times