The uncomfortable questions raised by this licence crackdown
Within hours of a proposed new law that would compel UPC and Sky to hand over databases to An Post's TV licence enforcers, UPC fired the first shots of resistance.
It politely told the Government to get stuffed. "UPC is not in a position to give An Post access to our cable subscription data because this would contravene our obligations under data protection," said a short statement.
While it later qualified that remark, conceding it would "comply with its legal obligations", its warning to this particular government strategy should be well heeded. Some questions present themselves.
* Why do UPC and Sky have to hand over their entire databases? According to minister Rabbitte, the legislation "will allow An Post to cross-check all those households and businesses with cable or satellite TV services against their own database of licence fee payers". In other words, give us every customer and we'll do a trawl to see what turns up. Is this really a targeted operation? At first glance, this may not pass a test in the data protection commissioner's judgment.
l Aren't there competitive issues? It's not just that the Government is seeking to force two of the largest customer databases in the country to be opened up. It's that the info is to be provided to existing or potential competitors. Future mobile phone provider UPC will be handing over sensitive data to a rival mobile phone operator (An Post, which operates PostFon). True, the Government has insisted that "the commercial confidentially of the information will have to be safeguarded". Really though?
* Why is this being done now? The Government has set its face to replacing the TV licence with a new household-based charge that would do away with existing loopholes. So why look at a fresh law on the old system now?