Data regulator found sharing of car ownership details ‘excessive’

Department of Transport has stopped sending details on car ownership to two other departments

The Irish Times has established that information on people’s car registrations had been transferred to the Departments of Social Protection and Public Expenditure. Photograph: Getty Images

The Irish Times has established that information on people’s car registrations had been transferred to the Departments of Social Protection and Public Expenditure. Photograph: Getty Images

 

The Department of Transport has stopped sending certain details about people’s vehicle ownership to two other departments after an investigation by the data regulator found the sharing was “irrelevant and excessive”.

Details have been published as Ministers continue to defend the roll out of the public services card project, and the wider data-sharing project across the public sector underpinning it.

The Irish Times has established that information on people’s car registrations - current and past - had been transferred to a database used by the Departments of Social Protection and Public Expenditure and kept for a short period before it was destroyed.

The Data Protection Commissioner has found the details were being provided as part of a larger set of information, only some of which was relevant to the personal data kept on individuals as part of their so-called “single customer view” file. The processing of the personal data involving the vehicle ownership was “very limited in scope”, an investigation found.

Information on all vehicles registered to a person was available to “a small number” of technical staff but it had not been available to frontline staff such as welfare staff in the Department of Social Protection.

The Department of Transport has a requirement to keep a complete history of vehicle ownership for assistance with criminal investigations, parking enforcement and ownership queries in relation to legal proceedings.

But the commissioner has found it was “irrelevant and excessive” to the other two departments’ purposes.

As controversy continued surrounding the state’s data sharing project, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar insisted on Thursday that the public service card was not and would never become a national identity card.

He said he had noted the concerns of Data Protection Commissioner Helen Dixon about the project, which has seen some 2.8 million cards issued.

However, Mr Varadkar said he was confident there was a legislative basis for the card.

“I will always pay attention to what (the commissioner) has to say and the Government will respond to any concerns that the Data Protection Commissioner has,” he said.

On Wednesday, the commissioner’s office said it had requested that the Department of Social Protection publish a comprehensive list of questions and answers relating to the public services card project. It asked the department to explain how the sections of the Social Welfare Acts it cited as underpinning the project provided a “robust legal basis” for it.

Small and medium sized businesses said on Thursday the controversy surrounding the cards was “dishonest” and described the intervention of the commissioner as “troubling”.

The Irish Small and Medium Enterprises Association said it supported the commissioner’s call for a comprehensive set of questions and answers in relation to the card.

“However, the innocent reader of the commissioner’s press statement on Wednesday might conclude she thought the State guilty of nefarious intent.

“Privacy is not an absolute right. It has to be balanced against our responsibilities to society, the rights of our neighbours, the rights of taxpayers to ensure their money is honestly spent.”