Sharing data and the rights of citizens

 

Sir, – I refer to the recent article on data-sharing by Elaine Edwards (“Government continues data-sharing projects despite EU ruling”, Technology, December 8th). She states that “serious questions arise over whether [government] departments have a legal basis for sharing citizens’ data”. She specifically refers to the Bara ruling and to information received from the Office of the Data Protection Commissioner, which, she states, should have sent the draft data-sharing and governance legislation “back to the drawing board”.

This is not correct. The data-sharing and governance draft legislation provides a statutory framework for data-sharing for legitimate and clearly specified purposes; and explicitly provides that such data-sharing will be fully compliant with the Data Protection Acts and with the EU’s new general data-protection regulation when it comes into operation in 2018.

The draft Bill provides a requirement for public service bodies to sign a memorandum of agreement before initiating data-sharing and sets out the minimum information and matters to be detailed in such memoranda, and that they must be placed before the Oireachtas and published. It also provides for best-practice safeguards and conditions to be complied with, and for assessments of privacy impact to be carried out in advance of any proposed data-sharing arrangements being put in place.

As regards the European Court of Justice judgments, the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform consulted a number of relevant actors to determine what, if any, repercussions the Bara judgment may have for the legislative proposal. Further in-depth legal consideration of the issues was undertaken by the Office of the Attorney General. Advice to the department is that the approach in the Bill is broadly in line with the current data protection directive and the soon to be enacted EU regulation. As the legal drafting of the Bill progresses, the department will continue to ensure that the detailed legal provisions conform to all of the requirements of the EU data-protection regime. To suggest that any public body continues to share data and ignores the Bara judgment and the changing data protection regime is not correct.

There is real value in sharing data between public bodies. For citizens and business, it avoids the need to provide the same information multiple times to different bodies. The implementation of the “ask once, use many” approach can help to significantly reduce the administrative burden on citizens and business and allow them to avail of higher-quality, more efficient public services.

For public bodies, data-sharing provides efficiency gains and cost savings by reducing manual document checking, removing unnecessary registration processes and providing more and better data control activities. Data-sharing is also vital for effective evidence informed policy-making and implementation as it helps to provide robust evidence which supports better analysis and decision-making.

The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform will continue to ensure that data-sharing only takes place in a way that fully aligns with data-protection responsibilities, that protects citizens and that contributes to the improvement of public service delivery. – Yours, etc,

ROBERT WATT,

Secretary General,

Department of

Public Expenditure

and Reform,

Government Buildings,

Dublin 2.