Only guilty need fear transparency - Evolving data protection norms

Only guilty need fear transparency - Evolving data protection norms

The data wars have intensified, and will again.

Recordings released last week show that Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg has promised to “go to the mat and fight” Democratic White House hopeful Elizabeth Warren over her promise to break up technology giants if she gets elected late next year. 

Zuckerberg, not content with Facebook facilitating off-radar, untraceable interventions in elections, was open about his big-stick intention to defend his multi-billion empire. Thankfully, Warren was engergised rather than cowed by the threat. 

“What would really ‘suck’ is if we don’t fix a corrupt system that lets giant companies like Facebook engage in illegal anti-competitive practices, stomp on consumer privacy rights, and repeatedly fumble their responsibility to protect our democracy,” she responded.

Zuckerberg Vs. America may be the hot ticket in this necessary confrontation but we have our own issues to resolve too. 

One is the shabby effort to introduce a data-heavy national identity card by the back door — the public services card fiasco. 

It is unfortunate, and more than slightly dishonest, that Government has not got the confidence to argue the increasingly valid case for such a card. 

That Social Protection Minister Regina Doherty and Public Expenditure Minister Paschal Donohoe will challenge the Data Protection Commission’s ruling that the card’s legal foundation is built on sand perpetuates the farce. 

Two arms of the State will confront each other, each sending expensive legal teams to do battle, despite repeated warnings that our data protection and privacy laws are not watertight. 

This episode, unfortunately, has taken on characteristics of the water charges fiasco, suggesting that this administration’s capacity to learn from errors is far more limited than it should be. 

That the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection cannot say — or is unwilling to say — how much the 10-year PSC project has cost to-date hardly inspires confidence either. 

Plausible estimates suggest that the €60m threshold has been passed.

Today we publish an intimate but significant example of how data can be managed to the disadvantage of individuals who went through mother and baby homes. 

We report that Tulsa, the child and family agency, sent a 69-year-old woman her mother’s death certificate but it was so heavily censored it was rendered meaningless. 

The woman’s efforts to establish her identity were, in our name, stymied. Tulsa conceded the certificate was redacted “to ensure that it can’t be found”. 

Tusla said it assesses the “likelihood of someone being harmed or not harmed” before it decides to release personal information to adopted people. 

The agency also said the decision was taken because the data also referred to a third party and was in line with the provisions of the General Data Protection Regulation. Once again, how convenient.

If this ruling seems cruel it is because it is. 

It is also hard to think of circumstances where anyone involved in this tawdry business deserves to be protected from the consequences of the actions by a state agency. 

After all, if they have nothing to hide they need not fear transparency.

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