Friday 30 September 2016

Ireland plays a key role in protection of privacy

Published 07/10/2015 | 02:30

Data Protection Commissioner Helen Dixon
Data Protection Commissioner Helen Dixon

The latest ruling on personal data by the European Court of Justice (CJEU) places Ireland at the centre of a privacy storm with constitutional, commercial, consumer and international diplomatic dimensions.

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As a small island nation on the periphery of Europe, Ireland can stand proudly over its record in enticing major multi-national technology companies such as Facebook, Twitter, Google and LinkedIn to our shores.

It is here that these tech icons have chosen to set up headquarters for their operations in Europe, making the Irish Office of the Data Protection Commissioner (DPC) - led by Helen Dixon - a de facto regulator for the region at large.

The concentration of such companies has made Ireland, whose Constitution enshrines a right to privacy, a major if at times reluctant player in the global debate about data privacy.

Given our de facto chief regulatory status, it is arguable that the DPC should have taken a much more pro-active role in the debate over the transfer of data by US companies to data centres outside of the European Union. As a result of the revelations by whistle-blower Edward Snowden, we now know that such data has been accessed and subject to mass surveillance by the US authorities including the National Security Agency.

Yesterday, the CJEU struck down a 15-year-old agreement between the EU and the US (the Safe Harbour Agreement) because it failed to provide adequate protections for EU citizens whose data is transferred outside of the Union.

The decision was not unexpected given an earlier opinion expressed by the court's Advocate General.

However, it has raised questions about the reluctance of the Irish authorities to offend the tech sector and has exposed the divisions across Europe about privacy rights in the digital age.

The task facing Ms Dixon is immense given the potential implications for some of the world's biggest firms.

But it also affords Ireland an immense opportunity to play a key role in protecting privacy as well as commerce.

Irish Independent

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