Tuesday 15 October 2019

Ireland's data watchdog 'must show Europe the way'

 

Dr Nora Ní Loideáin, director and lecturer at the Information Law and Policy Centre at the Institute for Advanced Legal Studies
Dr Nora Ní Loideáin, director and lecturer at the Information Law and Policy Centre at the Institute for Advanced Legal Studies
Louise Kelly

Louise Kelly

Ireland has a very important role to play in the future of GDPR as the actions of our supervisory authority could set a precedent for the rest of the European landscape, according to a leading digital privacy and data protection academic.

Budget 2019 included a funding increase of €3.5m for the country's Data Protection Commission (DPC), allowing the office to recruit an additional 40 staff members.

This would bring the team total to around 180 people.

Dr Nora Ní Loideáin, director and lecturer at the Information Law and Policy Centre at the Institute for Advanced Legal Studies (IALS) at University of London said that, while the new regulation is imperfect, what was tackled was the strengthening of data protection authorities.

"The best laws in practice, if they're not enforced, are of little benefit to companies and governments who want to comply. GDPR makes the watchdogs sufficiently robust, to exercise the power that they have," she said.

"In Ireland, budget and staffing levels have increased; and no doubt will increase again given the number of tech companies based in Ireland; these data companies need a leader, a strong supervisory authority."

Dr Ní Loideáin's PhD at Cambridge examined the influence of the right to respect for private life on the EU Data Retention Directive which mandated the mass retention of EU citizens' communications metadata for national security and law enforcement purposes.

At last year's Ireland's Edge conference in Dingle, she interviewed Max Schrems about his Facebook lawsuits - and will be discussing digital events of the year including the 'Cambridge Analytica' story at this year's event.

She said that it is incumbent on Data Commissioner Helen Dixon's office to enforce the necessary fines and sanctions as they now have the power to do so - and because all eyes will be watching.

"If they fine a firm under the new legislation, fines which are very significant, they will be subject to considerable scrutiny from the industry, and whoever the subject is will appeal," she said.

"But for a lot of big companies [what's worse is] if they are subject to censure or sanction, if they have to cease data processing [as in the case of Facebook which very much relies on advertising]; to be told they have to shut the data wheels to their profit mill is significant."

Dr Ní Loideáin believes that GDPR acts as a "wake-up call" for firms and governments in terms of data privacy, but believes there was a "missed opportunity" on the issue of consent.

"So much of what we do is online, the technology that we use, it's on the legal basis of meaningful and informed consent. But in reality, when we give practical consent, who has the time to read all the information and the policy documents?

"When they were pulling this together, this is an area that we thought would be tackled. Is it empowering us in practice? Or is it disempowering when you tick a box? There are very few alternatives in practice. The consent myth - that's a big challenge that wasn't tackled."

Presented by South Wind Blows production company, Ireland's Edge - Áit / Place, takes place on Friday November 30 and Saturday December 1 at the Dingle Skellig Hotel in Co Kerry.

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