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Government publishes personal details of new citizens online

Data Protection Commissioner says making the information public is stipulated by law

The personal details of new Irish citizens remain online indefinitely after publication by the Government’s official gazette. Photograph: Dhiraj Singh/Bloomberg

The names and full addresses of thousands of people who receive Irish citizenship remain online indefinitely after publication by the Government’s official gazette, raising concerns about safety and fraud.

The information, published by Iris Oifigiúil, also states whether the individual is an adult or a minor.

Some addresses have been online for up to 10 years and are readily accessible.

One new Irish citizen, who contacted The Irish Times, expressed horror at discovering her full address online, along with the names and addresses of up to 25,000 other naturalised citizens.

However, the Office of the Data Protection Commissioner has expressed no concern about the information as it is included in legislation, which dates from pre-internet 1956.

Restriction

In a statement, the office said the restriction on personal information does not apply “if the processing is required by or under any enactment or by a rule of law or order by the court” as set out in the Data Protection Acts.

In its own statement, the department said: “The grant of a certificate of naturalisation is seen as a public act where it is considered that disclosure is in the public interest. We are after all granting something very valuable . . . and the exercise of that discretion should be transparent.”

It said section 7 of the Irish Nationality and Citizenship Regulations 2011 (S.I. 569 of 2011), stipulates the information to be included is name, address, date of certificate and whether the person was of full age or minor.

The data commissioner’s office said the department was “following a statutory process of which the applicant is on notice”.

The woman who contacted The Irish Times said: “I was never informed of this when I applied for citizenship.

“The State has a duty of care to inform applicants that if they become naturalised citizens their name and full address will go online and be accessible through Google. ”

She said the data breached her right to privacy, confidentiality and potentially her safety. “It’s like being treated as a criminal,” she said.

Asylum seekers

People’s names and full addresses were given only when they did not comply with their tax obligations or faced criminal proceedings, she said. The postal code area should have sufficed for an address.

She also warned of the potential impact on asylum seekers granted refugee status.

Last year, the irishgenealogy.ie database rolled out by the Department of Heritage contained millions of records on living individuals supplied by the General Register Office, but they were removed after an order by the then data protection commissioner Billy Hawkes.

A consultant on data protection and privacy issues, Daragh O’Brien, said the commissioner’s position on the publication of the citizenship information “would appear to be wholly inconsistent with their position on the genealogy website”.

‘Right to be forgotten’

Mr O’Brien said that, in the absence of the commissioner acting to have the data removed, the alternative for an individual was to ask Google to remove it from search listings under the so-called ‘right to be forgotten’ ruling.

The Data Protection Commissioner’s office said, however, that Iris Oifigiúil could not be searched by the individual name of the person naturalised while the genealogy website could.

And the website was targeted at the public at large while Iris Oifigiúil “is accessed typically only by those with an interest in official matters”.