Government to face Dáil grilling over data breach

The Government is to face stiff questioning in the Dáil over the data breach scandal at Independent News and Media (INM) this week, with Sinn Féin and Fianna Fáil expected to raise the issue.

Since the Dáil went into recess, there has been a reluctance by politicians to comment on the matter, but many have signalled they are ready to raise it under the cover of privilege this week.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar is set to come under intense pressure to examine the INM scandal as Fianna Fáil’s Micheál Martin and Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou McDonald are expected to grill him over the breach. Mr Martin said he is deeply concerned about what is emerging in relation to the INM data breach and that he wants specific answers from Mr Varadkar on what is happening.

Mr Varadkar and Communications Minister Denis Naughten have said the alleged data breach scandal at INM is very “concerning”.

The Taoiseach said: “I do have concerns. Of course, I do.

“I’m concerned anytime somebody’s personal emails or electronic information is accessed by anyone. For our democracy to function, we need to have an independent press and we need to have a diversity of press ownership as well and I’m a great believer in that because democracy can’t function without a strong and independent media.”

Ms McDonald said she will also raise the INM data breach issue in the Dáil, adding that the matter should be of serious concern to the public.

Meanwhile, two central figures of Facebook in Ireland are going before a Dáil committee meeting today to answer questions on controversies surrounding the multibillion-dollar company.

Joel Kaplan, the vice president of public policy at Facebook, and Niamh Sweeney, the head of public policy for Facebook in Ireland, will be quizzed by the TDs and senators on the joint committee of communications, climate action and environment.

Facebook has said up to 45,000 of its users in Ireland could have had some of their information improperly shared with Cambridge Analytica.

It is likely that Mr Kaplan and Ms Sweeney will be asked questions about how confidential users’ data was treated by the social media site.

As well as questions on data protection, the committee is also likely to ask how much data has already been taken from Irish users without their knowledge or permission and who has that data now.

Fianna Fáil TD James Lawless, who sits on the committee, predicted that the Facebook bosses will also be asked about transparency in political advertising. It is illegal to produce any election literature without clearly marking its origin and publisher. However, Facebook ads are often very difficult to source.

Facebook is being watched closely in Ireland. Helen Dixon, the data protection commissioner, will also be attending the committee meeting today. Two weeks ago, she said that her office is actively supervising Facebook in “cleaning up its act and ensuring users’ data is protected”.

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