The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has given out the personal passport data of citizens upon request from State authorities on more than 2,000 occasions since the beginning of 2019.
Under the Data Protection Act 2018, which was brought into law in order to bring Ireland in legislative alignment with the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), the personal data of people may be accessed for reasons other than which it was collected only in specific situations - they being threats to national security, the investigation or prevention of criminal offences, or in order for the provision of legal advice or the defence of legal rights.
All told that threshold was matched on 2,198 occasions between January of this year and the present date, according to Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney.
In response to questioning from Social Democrats TD Catherine Murphy, the Minister said that while “the data provided cannot be used for any purpose other than that for which it is obtained”, he could not say specifically for what purposes the information had been sought.
“Due to the requirement that suitable and specific measures are taken to safeguard the fundamental rights and freedoms of data subjects, my Department is not privy as to why the information is being sought by the public authority,” he said.
The bodies understood to have the authority to request such information from Foreign Affairs include An Garda Síochána, the Defence Forces, and other authorised bodies such as airport police at Dublin and Cork airports.
Mr Coveney said that no other Government Department has access to passport information, records, or photographs. However, until recently this had verifiably not been the case.
Until at least 2017 the Department of Social Protection had been in the habit of utilising such passport data irregularly in certain “low risk” cases for its Public Services Card project.
In terms of requests to access personal data from the gardaí, he said that such submissions can only be authorised at Chief Superintendent level and above.
Ms Murphy had requested the number of instances in which personal passport data had been delivered by the Department of Foreign Affairs for each of the past 20 years, but was informed that such records do not exist as “the Data Protection Act 2018 only came into force in May 2018”.
Records for the seven months between that date and the end of last year had been collated manually and as such were not readily available, Mr Coveney said.
“A case management system was instituted in January 2019 to provide more accessible statistics for these type of requests,” he said.
He added that “no complaints” have thus far been lodged by Irish passport holders in view of the surrender of their personal data. He did not specify whether or not a citizen is made aware if their data has been accessed in this manner, however.
The Tánaiste stressed that his Department is “fully committed to keeping all personal data submitted by its customers safe and secure during administrative processes”.
The ongoing uncertainty surrounding Brexit has seen an explosion in demand for Irish passports from British people entitled to Irish citizenship. In the first seven months of 2019 just under 500,000 documents were issued by the Passport Office.