UK information watchdog to make enquiries into Sinn Féin database

McDonald confirms information held in Frankfurt by ‘an outstanding and trusted company’

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald outside Stormont in Belfast, speaking to media following a loyalist protest in the city against Brexit’s Northern Ireland Protocol. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald outside Stormont in Belfast, speaking to media following a loyalist protest in the city against Brexit’s Northern Ireland Protocol. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

 

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald has been accused of being “completely disingenuous” in implying that other parties use the electoral register in the same way as her own.

Fianna Fáil made the claim as all of the main political parties said they did not hold central databases of voters that includes information not found on the electoral roll.

Sinn Féin’s Abú system has been at the centre of controversy after reports that party members are encouraged to add information on voters including their perceived level of support for the party.

The Data Protection Commissioner (DPC) has asked questions about the system and their UK counterpart on Thursday confirmed it will be making enquiries on information held by Sinn Féin.

In her first public comments on the issue, Ms McDonald told Newstalk the database “is really an old-fashioned canvassing system”. She said the system was for electoral purposes and “all of that is allowable under the law”.

She later told RTÉ’s Prime Time the online database was stored in Frankfurt, Germany by “an outstanding and trusted company” called Linode.

It was moved from London after the advent of Brexit, she said. Sinn Féin had previously refused to say where the data was being held.

“This is not a case where information is held in a filing cabinet somewhere in Frankfurt. This is about warehousing data and we use the services of an outstanding and trusted company to ensure that the data is absolutely secure and to ensure that nobody who should not have access to that data gains access.”

Ms McDonald said when the database was set up the party had a data compliance officer but not a data protection officer. It has since employed one, she said.

The Sinn Féin leader also implied other political parties had similar systems.

“This isn’t something that is unique to us. Every political party, every candidate who runs an election canvasses the vote, has access to the electoral register and it’s part and parcel of the process,” she said.

“And the Abú system as it’s called in our case – I don’t know what other political parties call theirs – is simply that. It is the returns if you like from canvasses.”

However, Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, the Green Party, Labour, the Social Democrats and People Before Profit all said they did not have similar national databases when asked by The Irish Times.

‘Disingenuous’

A Fianna Fáil statement said: “The Sinn Féin leader is being completely disingenuous to suggest that all parties use the electoral register in the way that Sinn Féin apparently does.”

It added: “The compiling of a national database of voters at a central level goes beyond the normal electoral activities of local public representatives.”

Sinn Féin responded to the criticism by saying: “All parties use the electoral register for electoral purposes.”

On Thursday a spokeswoman for the UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) said: “We are aware of reports regarding a database operated by Sinn Féin and we will be making enquiries.”

She also pointed to advice on the use of information by political parties, including the use of profiling techniques, that is available on the ICO website.

It also advises parties to revise their privacy policy and “clearly inform individuals” about the profiling that they carry out. The ICO also advises parties not to collect too much information or keep it for too long.

Sinn Féin said on Thursday night it had received no correspondence from the ICO. “If we do, we look forward to engaging with them. We believe that we are fully compliant with data protection legislation and believe that the Commissioner will agree.”

Ms McDonald was asked on Thursday why the database is stored in Frankfurt. She said it was a “technical question” and that it did not matter where the information was held as long as it was in the EU.

“The important thing is that it is electrically and technically held and stored safely. It is used for electoral purposes.”

She said there is “nothing nefarious” and “nothing untoward” about the database.