UPC defies call to give customer details to TV inspectors
A PRIVATE cable television firm has warned it will "not voluntarily" hand over customer information to An Post to help crack down on licence fee evasion.
The Government has approved the drawing up of legislation allowing An Post to access the information from more than 1.1 million paid-up subscription households with providers such as Sky and UPC.
The semi-state postal service will be able to use the information to cross-check and track down around 260,000 businesses and households – or 15pc of those with a television – who avoid paying the €160 state charge at a cost to the State of up to €30m.
However, both Sky and UPC last night warned they take their responsibilities to protect customers' data seriously.
And cable television service UPC – which supplies more than 422,000 homes with packages – said it would "not voluntarily" agree to exchange any customer information without a legal obligation to do it.
"UPC is not in a position to give An Post access to our cable subscription data because this would contravene our obligations under data protection," the firm stated.
It is estimated that more than 700,000 households have a Sky box. "Sky takes its responsibilities to protect its customers' data very seriously, recognising the trust our customers place in us," a Sky spokesman said.
"Sky will continue to ensure its customers' data is safe in compliance with all legislative requirements applicable."
The Government plans to pass legislation to ensure the information can be passed over to An Post without falling foul of data protection concerns.
The Office of the Data Protection Commissioner last night said it expected to be consulted by the Government as part of the move to draw up legislation to cover the legal handover of information on customers.
The watchdog said the restrictions on personal data were lifted where specific legislation was put in place to allow a body to access the data.
Communications Minister Pat Rabbitte hopes the Bill will be in force by the end of the year.
He insisted An Post would have access to the information just for collecting the licence fee and the "commercial confidentiality of the information will have to be safeguarded".
"Licence fee evasion is an ongoing scourge," he said. "This means that around €25-€30m of potential revenue is lost annually to RTE."
He said the new move should "significantly reduce the level of evasion", adding that the new laws would allow the "licence fee inspection and collection system" to enter the 21st Century.
According to a report drawn up by the Communications Department last year, there were two million households in the country, with only 1.4 million – including free licences – paying the €160 fee.