News Editorial

Thursday 18 September 2014

Ireland can't afford to be lax on data laws

Published 16/08/2014 | 02:30

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Credit unions used stolen data to snoop on defaulting debtors
Credit unions used stolen data to snoop on defaulting debtors

THAT credit unions used stolen data to snoop on defaulting debtors is shocking, not least because they were unaware that private detectives used illicit means to procure sensitive data on their behalf.

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It is not just credit unions who have fallen victim to such methods: several insurance companies have been prosecuted for being in possession of personal information.

In the case of the credit unions, material was obtained through false pretences from the Department of Social Protection.

And last year a court heard that personal information concerning people's employment histories as well as earnings and welfare claims eventually "made its way to insurance companies".

The revelations could not come at a more pivotal time, with incoming EU legislation on data privacy set to formalise a 'one-stop shop' with regard to data regulation across Europe. This will effectively make the Irish data protection commissioner the single most powerful data regulation official in Europe, as entities such as Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Twitter, Apple, LinkedIn and others all choose Ireland as their base.

The revelations also come as the current Irish data protection commissioner, Billy Hawkes, prepares to step down from his long-time role. Developments such as the ones revealed by the Irish Independent will ensure that there is an even greater focus on his successor's approach to policing lax data protection regimes in state bodies and other organisations.

Tragedy tests new abortion legislation

OF all the sections in the controversial Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act, the suicide clause was and will remain the most controversial.

The prospect of ending an unborn life because of the risk of loss of the mother's life from suicide has convulsed the country since 1992.

That was when a 14-year-old girl, pregnant as the result of rape, was injuncted by the High Court from travelling abroad for a termination.

The Supreme Court set aside the injunction and subsequently ruled in the X case that where there was a risk to the life (as distinct from the health) of the mother - including the risk of suicide - termination was lawful.

The appeal court did not set any time limits or pronounce on viability when it ruled that abortion was lawful in such limited circumstances.

This raised fears, during the passage of the 2013 act, that terminations could be carried out on expectant women whose unborn foetuses were viable.

The difficult ethical, legal and emotional dilemmas facing women and their doctors has been borne out in the recent tragic case of a young woman who was refused a termination after being assessed by an expert panel.

The woman's pregnancy was significantly advanced when she sought a termination on grounds that there was a real and substantial risk to her life by suicide.

Her application was refused and doctors ultimately delivered her baby.

The case, though tragic, demonstrates that the act is at least operative, notwithstanding huge disagreement among doctors about guidelines issued to implement 
the law.

As always, tragedy will test the boundaries of the new regime.

Irish Independent

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