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Self-regulation: Irish police database - “some sort of social media”

10 April, 2013

This article is also available in:
Deutsch: Selbstregulierung: Irische Polizeidatenbank – quasi ein "sozial...

Alan Shatter, the Irish Minister of Justice, has demanded an end to the abuse of the PULSE police database. In a sharply worded speech to the Association of Garda Irish police Sergeants and Inspectors (AGSI) conference, he said that it was necessary “to ensure that individuals who have done no wrong do not have their privacy violated” and that in no circumstances should the database “be used as some sort of social network to be accessed out of curiosity by members of the Force”. The incident provides several very important lessons for the current EU data protection reform (Mr Shatter is the President-in-office of the EU Justice Council).

The abuses of the database have been happening almost continuously since the adoption of a “self-regulation” agreement in 2007. This means that the enforcement of the law through "self-regulation" has led to six years of abuses that could have been avoided.

This experience also shows how misguided the efforts are in the Council and Parliament to remove the public sector from the Data Protection Regulation. As important as it is to ensure that companies like Facebook are effectively regulated, this is of limited value if public databases can be abused so comprehensively and for so long due to failures of incompetent national approaches.

The Minister's statement highlights just how unfit for purpose the Irish data protection regime has become. In the course of the six years of the operation of the “self-regulation” regime, the data protection authority expressed “disappointment” in its 2010 annual report and promised an audit of the system. Two years later, in response to abuse of a completely different database, the data protection commissioner announced.... an audit of PULSE. Five months after the last promise of action by the data protection commissioner, it is unsurprising that the Minister said in his speech that he is turning to the police commissioner to solve the problem.

Minister Shatter appears to be the first Irish Justice Minister ever to take data protection seriously. Despite the financial crisis, he has increased the data protection authority's budget by 20% in one year, leading to the appointment of specialist staff, including a chief technology adviser, a legal adviser and additional support staff. He is undoubtedly aware of the fact that resources alone will not change the culture of the organisation overnight and that more fundamental changes are almost certainly needed. Hopefully, these changes will be facilitated by the current review of the European data protection framework – if this is not derailed by excessive lobbying or short-sighted politics.

2010 Irish DPA Annual report

Tax official used data on woman to proposition her (24.02.2012)

Minister Shatter stresses Government Support for the Office of the Data Protection Commissioner (27.03.2013)

Address by Alan Shatter TD, Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence on the occasion of the 2013 AGSI Conference (25.03.2013)

(Contribution by Joe McNamee - EDRi)



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