Tuesday 24 April 2018

Government considering how to address Facebook data crisis ahead of abortion vote

Mark Zuckerberg
Mark Zuckerberg
Wayne O'Connor

Wayne O'Connor

Tánaiste Simon Coveney said the government is considering how it will react to the growing controversy engulfing Facebook and reports a British-owned political consultancy firm mined the personal information of 50 million Americans as part of an attempt to influence the 2016 US presidential election.

It comes as political figures here fear the upcoming Abortion Referendum here could be targeted in a similar way by campaigning organisations.

Mr Coveney said it was important the Irish Data Protection Commissioner Helen Dixon was given the necessary resources to make sure Irish citizens were not left vulnerable to such practices.

It comes as Ms Dixon’s office confirmed it is following up with Facebook to examine what levels of oversight are in place on the social media platform.

The issue was discussed by ministers at cabinet this morning.

Mr Coveney said it was important Irish referendums and elections were not subjected to external influences based on data mining operations by businesses.

Stock photo
Stock photo

“We need to make sure we have a data protection commissioner who is properly resourced,” he said.

“This is a very serious issue and in fact we have spent some time this morning in cabinet discussing it.

“There are a series of responses here to make sure we have efficient legislation here and resources to protect people.”

He added that the Data Commissioner would see resources at her office increased. The number of personnel there is set to rise from 80 to 140 later this year.

Green Party leader Eamon Ryan said it was important the upcoming Abortion Referendum was not influenced by companies and campaigning organisations mining people’s data and targeting them online.

He called for further legislation to be brought forward to prevent the practice.

Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney is to travel to China to mark St Patrick's Day (Brian Lawless/PA)
Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney is to travel to China to mark St Patrick's Day (Brian Lawless/PA)

Facebook has promised to “aggressively” conduct an audit that would involve “complete access” to the “servers and systems” of Cambridge Analytica, the British-based consultancy firm, and the researchers it employed during the controversy.

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