Bill published to allow greater data sharing by public bodies

Data Sharing and Governance Bill will deliver ‘tangible benefits’ says Donohoe

A new Bill published by the Government will provide for more extensive data sharing between public bodies and will deliver "tangible benefits" to the public and to business, Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe has said.

The Data Sharing and Governance Bill will allow for the sharing of and reuse of personal data so that individuals and businesses only have to provide their details once to a Government body.

The data will include identity information where people are applying for access to State services or payments and public bodies will also be allowed to share information for targeting policy measures.

Mr Donohoe and Minister of State for Open Government Patrick O’Donovan published the Bill on Tuesday following its recent approval by the Government.

They said its purpose was “to provide a generalised legal basis for the sharing of data between public bodies while also setting out appropriate safeguards under which such sharing should take place”.

“Enactment of this legislation will deliver tangible benefits to the public and to business. Sharing and reusing data will cut down on waste and duplication by ensuring that individuals and businesses should not have to supply the same information more than once to public bodies. More extensive data sharing will also support better policy development and more efficient and effective policy implementation,” the Ministers said.

The Bill also sets out what they said was a series of important governance measures to ensure that personal data is shared by public bodies in a lawful, proportionate and transparent manner in accordance with national and EU data protection law, including the new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

The Ministers said the development of the legislation had also created an opportunity to provide for “more consistent and improved safeguards in relation to public service data management”.

“This Bill is key to delivering on our public service reform commitments to expand digital delivery of services and make greater use of data. It will also provide for stronger governance and transparency by public service bodies in the way they share and manage data, which will assist public bodies in meeting the more stringent data protection requirements provided for under the GDPR,” Mr Donohoe said.

Mr O’Donovan said better access to data would improve decision making and planning in the delivery of services.

He said the public also had “a strong expectation that their data protection rights will be respected and public bodies will use personal data responsibly, proportionately and securely”.

During pre-legislative scrutiny before the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Finance last year, internet pioneer and Irish physicist Dr Dennis Jennings was critical of the approach he said was being taken by the Government in the sharing of citizens' data.

He said the situation whereby it was trying to introduce 3 million public service cards using data from multiple sources under the provisions of social welfare legislation that he believed to be “very old and out of date” was “truly shocking”.

Data protection expert Daragh O’Brien told the committee the potential value of the sharing of data between organisations “cannot be lightly dismissed” but he said governance structures were “essential”.

Mr O’Brien recalled that there had been “a constant procession of cases before the Data Protection Commissioner and the courts where data has been accessed inappropriately and without authorisation”.

In these cases, personal data had been disclosed to third parties by people in the employment of the State “who already have access to significant amounts of personal information”.