Government ‘not compliant’ in sharing citizen data - TD

Catherine Murphy tabled questions to Ministers over ruling from EU Court of Justice

Social Democrats TD Catherine Murphy questioned whether advice to Ministers on the sharing of citizens’ data was “flawed”. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

Social Democrats TD Catherine Murphy questioned whether advice to Ministers on the sharing of citizens’ data was “flawed”. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

 

The Government is not compliant with a recent significant ruling by Europe’s top court that affects the sharing of citizens’ personal data between departments and agencies, Social Democrats TD Catherine Murphy has claimed.

Ms Murphy tabled written questions to ministers in the Dáil last week asking whether databases including those set up for the property tax, Eircode, water charges and information on school pupils were now illegal in light of the so-called Bara judgment by the Court of Justice of the European Union.

That ruling, delivered on October 1st, concerned a Romanian case where the personal data of citizens was shared by a tax authority with another body for the purposes of assessing their liability for health insurance contributions.

The court ruled that administrative bodies were precluded under a 1995 EU directive from transferring personal data to another administrative body without the citizens concerned having been informed of that transfer.

‘Satisfied’ at compliance

Government Ministers, including Minister for Finance Michael Noonan, Tánaiste and Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton and Minister for the Environment Alan Kelly told the Dáil they were satisfied their departments are in compliance with the law.

Mr Noonan said he had been informed by the Revenue Commissioners that the administration of the Local Property Tax had been specifically provided for in legislation.

Revenue had, he said, considered the Bara judgment with regard to any possible implications for it as a data controller.

“The Bara judgment concerned the sharing between two state entities in Romania of data without legislative authority or consent from data subjects [citizens],” he said.

“On that basis, the European Court of Justice found that the data-sharing in question was illegal without notification to or consent from the data subjects.”

Ms Murphy contended, however, that the advice to Ministers on the case was incorrect, as legislation had, in fact, been in place in the Romanian case and this was referred to in the EU judgment.

“If that advice [to Ministers] is flawed, well, we don’t want to run into a situation where we end up having an individual having to take the State through the courts and seeking recompense and a change in the law in retrospect.

‘Recognise the problem’

“What we need to do is recognise now that there’s a problem, we need to deal with that problem appropriately with the right protections put in place and we’re not within the legal parameters that were outlined by that judgment.

“Let’s do it before we have to do a commission of inquiry or a tribunal on it,” Ms Murphy said.

Irish legislative measures in recent years have, for example, allowed Irish Water to access information from various State bodies, utilities and other sources in order to compile a customer database from scratch.

It faced controversy last year when it emerged the water utility was seeking access to people’s PPS numbers. The Data Protection Commissioner’s office received a huge number of inquiries about the matter.

The requirement for individuals to give their PPS number was subsequently dropped when the Government announced an amended scheme involving the water conservation grant, administered by the Department of Social Protection.