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Just what is the Data Protection Office doing?

The Office of the Data Protection Commissioner is very busy.

We have learned this week that they have written to three Vocational Education Committees with concerns over information being sought from parents applying to new primary schools.

Shock, horror, but apparently, admission forms for five schools requested information on religious affiliation, stating that this information may be shared with other schools.

Terrible stuff altogether.

The Office's letter to the offending VECs say that religious affiliation is "sensitive information" with special protections under legislation.

Is it terrified that those who may have access to this exciting information may do dreadful things -- like burning down your house if they know you are a Christian or at the very least sending you mailshots telling you why you should be a Muslim? Thanks guys -- we were all very worried.

Here's the thing. Taxpayers do not generally get exercised over comparatively unnecessary data protection concerns. We remain confident that the Department of Education will not use our childrens' religious affiliations for any nefarious purposes and we really believe in the information age that Google can take pictures of our streets without our societal structure collapsing.

We live in the real world and accept that much of the personal information out there is generally for our benefit. Here are two examples of what we do get concerned about though. We want our credit card and financial details jealously protected - they can and do get in the wrong hands.

The Office was set up with the most noble of purposes to try to stop the misuse of information about individuals that was facilitated by new technology -- but we are now paying for yet another maniac quango.

To merely run the Commissioner's office costs in the region of €2m each year with staff costs alone accounting for €1.4m of this figure.

The Office now justifies its existence on the basis of bogus demands and requests to organisations and companies up and down the country in order to fulfil the letter of a law badly in need of revision.

Oh and for the record Mr Commissioner? I'm Church of Ireland, my children are Catholic and I'm not bothered who knows.

John O'Keeffe is a Criminologist and Law Lecturer