Friday 20 September 2019

Emily O'Reilly: Ireland's data transparency rate compares well with other EU states

Ombudsman Emily O'Reilly
Ombudsman Emily O'Reilly

Jane O'Flaherty

European Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly has said that EU member states should be more transparent with information.

In conversation with Irish Independent Editor Fionnán Sheahan at the Web Summit, Ms O’Reilly said that Ireland compared well with the 27 other EU member states in relation to availability of data.

“Ireland is actually fairly advanced in relation to its Freedom of Information Laws, its Ombudsman regulation and it has also just created a new lobbying register,” she said. “That would not be common among the 28 member states.”

“In some countries though, the lobbying register is called the anti-corruption register so that also tells of a particular cultural view of lobbying,” she added. “Some countries have greater powers of lobbying and it is regulated, while others don’t.”

Ms O’Reilly also voiced her concern about the ability of EU officials to leave their positions to work for tech companies, who may wish to access information on regulation that could affect them.

While she recognised that the EU was working to regulate this, she said: “I’m not convinced that it is monitored adequately and enforced adequately and I think the rules have to be tightened.”

The Ombudsman also spoke of the difficulties in finding common ground on data protection among several different cultural viewpoints in Europe.

“If you take Germany for example, the culture is very much attuned to privacy and protecting people’s private life, documents and so on,” she said. “They would have a different view to how data protection as we’ve seen in this country where it is a commercial issue.”

However, she stressed that neither country was better or worse in relation to data protection, and said the differences were due to historical events, such as the aftermath of the Holocaust.

“That has left a legacy around the private space of individuals,” she said, adding that her role as Ombudsman involved “weaving around” cultural attitudes in order to find an “acceptable standard”.

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