Google refuses to remove results with new citizens’ names

Complaint made over publication of personal details in State’s official gazette

Google has refused to remove search results that show the names of newly naturalised Irish citizens in the State's official gazette, because of the Government's "ongoing choice" to make the information public.

Concerns were expressed by a migrant rights body and by digital rights campaigners recently when it emerged the details of thousands of citizens, including their full addresses and whether they are minors or adults, are being published on Iris Oifigiúil.

At least one citizen affected has taken legal advice and this weekend sought a formal decision from the Data Protection Commissioner on the matter.

The person told the commissioner they failed to see why, as a naturalised citizen, they would have lesser rights to data protection than those who are citizens by birth.

The commissioner has insisted the publication of the information is covered by a 1956 law and that data protection issues therefore don’t arise.

The individual also complained to Google, seeking the de-listing from search results of the Iris Oifigiúil document in which their name appeared.

In its reply, Google said the content complained of was being published and provided to search engines “on an ongoing basis by a government body or agency”.

“In light of the government’s ongoing choice to make this material available to the public, our conclusion is that Google’s reference to this information in our search results is justified by the public interest. At this time, Google has decided not to take action on this URL.”

It said they may wish to send their request for removal directly to the webmaster of the site in question.

“The webmaster has the ability to remove the content in question from the web, or block it from appearing in search engines.”

Google also told the person they may have the right to raise the issue with the data protection authority if they were unhappy with the decision.

In its own response to the person’s complaint, the Data Protection Commissioner’s office said the provisions of the Data Protection Acts could be set aside “in a number of narrow circumstances, e.g. where there is a specific legal basis which underpins the making available of the personal information”.

In this case, section 18(2) of the Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act 1956 stated that a certificate of naturalisation shall be in the prescribed form and be issued on payment of the prescribed fee, and notice of issue shall be published in the prescribed manner in Iris Oifigiúil.

A statutory instrument of 2011 also confirmed this publication.

It also pointed the individual to a notice on the Immigration and Naturalisation Service website stating that the details of “successful applicants” for citizenship would be published in Iris Oifigiúil.

Shortly after The Irish Times highlighted the citizen's concerns last month, a technical change was made to the Iris Oifigiúil website which means the published names should not be picked up by search engines. The details remain online, however.

Digital Rights Ireland, which took a case to the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg that resulted in the striking down of the EU directive on the retention of citizens' phone and internet records, has said the 1956 legislation does not require the divulging of new citizens' personal data.

The Migrant Rights Centre Ireland said in August it was “astounded” the Government had made this private information so easily accessible to the public.

In particular, it had “grave concern” for the safety of people who have sought protection in the State – including refugees, victims of trafficking and victims of domestic violence”.