User Menu

Genealogy website restores access to records

Potential fraud risks in making information available online conceded by Government

A Government genealogy website will this week restore access to some civil records that were removed after The Irish Times highlighted security concerns.

Data Protection Commissioner Billy Hawkes complained about the availability of personal data relating to people who were still alive on the website www.irishgenealogy.ie, shortly after its launch, in July 2014.

The data included first name, surname, mother’s maiden name and date of birth, as well as the district in which the birth entry was registered.

The website is run by the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, which is headed by Minister Heather Humphreys. The site immediately disabled access to the data after Mr Hawkes described it as a “shocking” example of public service failure.

The indexes to historical civil records will be relaunched on the website this week.

However, only older data is being made available. This means records of births must be from more than 100 years ago, marriages from more than 75 years ago and deaths from more than 50 years ago.

Risks

The Government has conceded to potential risks in making more modern information available online.

In July 2014, the availability of extensive modern data had been drawn to the attention of the commissioner by The Irish Times after a concern was raised by a member of the public about the availability of their own details on the site.

Mr Hawkes told the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht that in his view the information could be used for criminal purposes if it were extracted in bulk and used in conjunction with other information.

“Obvious risks” included the potential for identity theft, he said.

Offline

The Government has insisted no laws were broken as all of the index books on the website can be viewed “offline” at the General Register Office’s research room on Werburgh Street in Dublin.

Potential risks in making the information available online were subsequently conceded, however.

Officials from the Department of Arts, the Department of Social Protection and the General Register Office have been liaising since access to the indexes was temporarily removed, while contact with the Office of the Data Protection Commissioner has also continued.

In the course of these discussions, it was proposed and agreed that only historical data would be included and a revised memo of understanding has been signed by the General Register Office and Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht.

The department had originally sought access to the General Register Office’s indexes of births, marriages and deaths in order to provide access on the website.