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Government to appoint two new Data Protection Commissioners

Stung by international criticism, Justice Minister Helen McEntee now says Ireland will appoint two new Data Protection Commissioners to sit alongside chairperson Helen Dixon

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Data Protection Commissioner Helen Dixon. Photo: Adrian Weckler

Data Protection Commissioner Helen Dixon. Photo: Adrian Weckler

Data Protection Commissioner Helen Dixon. Photo: Adrian Weckler

The government is to appoint two new Data Protection Commissioners, bowing to international pressure.

The move will see current Commissioner Helen Dixon appointed to a new role of chairperson of the Data Protection Commission.

The appointments, made against the wishes of the current DPC office, signal that the government is trying to placate international criticism of Ireland not being sufficiently resourced to get through big data protection enforcement decisions quickly enough.

“Having regard to recent, current and developing circumstances, these factors informed the recommendation that the number of Commissioners be increased,” said a spokesperson for the Department of Justice.

The government’s intention to consider the appointment of the new Commissioners was first reported in the Irish Independent.

The move is being undertaken “on the basis that the DPC has evolved significantly since its inception” and is “in line with the Government’s commitment to ensure that the DPC can best deliver on its responsibilities”, according to the Department of Justice.

“The increased working burden and investigative complexity has been regularly highlighted by the Commission itself and its stakeholders.”

The DPC’s office currently has over 20 international investigations in tech multinationals underway, some of which have been in process for years. Last month, it sent a decision on restricting Meta data from the EU to the US to other European data regulators before the decision is published.

“The Data Protection Commission has performed its role of independent data protection regulation in the State very effectively to date,” said Justice Minister Helen McEntee. “In recent years, the Commission is dealing with an increased workload with increasingly complex investigative requirements. In light of her considerable experience and expertise, [the] Government has agreed to my proposal to appoint Helen Dixon to the position of chairperson of the Data Protection Commission. I am also asking that the DPC undertake a review of governance structures, staffing arrangements and processes in order to support the work to be performed by the new model of Commission.”

The Public Appointments Service will now set about recruiting the two new Commissioners, a process which is expected to take six months.

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Funding for the DPC has increased from €3.6m in 2015 to €23.2m this year. Its staffing has increased from 110 in 2018 to 191, with plans to increase this to 258 by the end of 2022.

Responding to the government’s move, the Irish Council for Civil Liberties said that “at least” one incoming Commissioner “should have expert knowledge of procedural law to ensure a high quality of decision making” by the DPC.

“While the appointment of additional Commissioners is welcome, we remain deeply concerned that Government has not launched an independent review of how to strengthen and reform the DPC,” said ICCL executive director Liam Herrick. “Without such a review it will be impossible for the new commissioners to know what they need to fix. The Minister’s suggestion that the DPC review itself is totally inadequate.”


 


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