independent

Monday 21 April 2014

Investigation into Garda use of public data to be presented soon - Data Protection Commissioner

Billy Hawkes, data protection commissioner, at his offices in Portarlington, Co. Laois. Picture: James Flynn/APX
Billy Hawkes, data protection commissioner

An audit into how the Gardai use public information is to be presented soon, according to the Data Protection Commissioner.

The lengthy and comprehensive audit, which is close to completion, will include information on Garda compliance with public information, how they use it and what constitutes best practice.

According to Data Protection Commissioner Billy Hawkes, Gardai have already taken action with recommendations provided. Speaking on Derek Mooney's RTE radio programme this afternoon, Mr Hawkes said his office often carries out these data audits.

Although the Office of the Data Protection Commissioner won't directly make the audit public, it's up to the Gardai whether it will be open to public viewing.

Mr Hawkes also defended his office's location in Portarlington after a recent Quartz article calling it an "unlikely place for what has grown to become one of the most important offices in global privacy".

He said the office's location doesn't matter, as most of his dealings are done through email and online communications. Speaking on RTE radio this afternoon, Mr Hawkes said his office, above a shop in Portarlington, co Laois, is a good location.

"We communicate electronically,so it doesn't matter where we are geographically. Where we're located is beside the point," he said.

"From Portarlington, we can get to any part of Ireland within around two hours."

He said the rural location also stops 'Dublin think', which some Government agencies have been accused of.

From his office, Mr Hawkes protects the data of around 1 billion people, as many large online companies, such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, are based in Ireland.

"We do have resources to deal with what's been thrown at us. There are 30 [employees] altogether. We are a lean and mean operation."

When asked if he was afraid, Mr Hawkes said no, as most young people have "cop on".

"There's an awful lot of basic cop-on about who to share information with. It's the older generation I'd be more concerned about," he said.

The office receives a lot of complaints about cold calls, CCTV footage and span. Mr Hawkes said people are entitled to ask for a copy of any public footage of them.

"We've had to deal with complaints where CCTV was used in classrooms and toilets. We have to say that's going too far," he said.

Irish Independent

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