Minister: TV licence move ‘will not breach data laws’

Fears that a new crackdown on TV licence fee dodgers could breach data protection laws have been dismissed by Communications Minister Alex White.

Minister: TV licence move ‘will not breach data laws’

The Government announced the move to go after non-payers as it abandoned plans to bring in a new broadcasting charge this side of the general election.

The bid to force cable service providers such as Sky and UPC to hand over details about customers sparked concern it could infringe far-reaching protections around personal information held by companies.

However, Mr White said if it was illegal now, it would not be so after the Government pushed its plans through the Oireachtas.

“It won’t be legal until we bring in the legislation. Legislation is what makes things legal, and, of course, we will address data protection issues in that legislation,” Mr White told RTÉ.

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The current system sees some 250,000 households, 15% of the total, evade the €160 a year payment.

Failure to pay the annual charge saw more than 400 people jailed in 2013, with fines of up to €2,000 also available for non-payers.

The minister denied opposition claims that the Government was running scared on the issue of bringing in a broadcasting charge to replace the traditional TV licence.

Ministers have repeatedly pushed the idea of such a reform as people now access programming from a variety of devices and not just televisions and radios.

Mr White said the proposed new charge was a “work in progress” which people had to come to understand and support before it could be implemented.

“It’s a new idea, rather than people paying just on the basis of having a TV in the living room, people would contribute to a household charge which would not be device specific,” the minister said.

Fianna Fáil’s communications spokesperson Michael Moynihan accused the Government of “kicking to touch” plans to bring in a broadcasting charge because of the mass anger provoked by the imposition of water charges.

“The Government constantly said that they were going to bring this before the Dáil in this term.

“They have obviously learned form the mistakes of Irish Water and shelved it until after the general election,” Mr Moynihan told RTÉ.

The Fianna Fáil TD said that any new charge should be lower than the current TV licence.

Mr Moynihan also signalled he would support a wider distribution of funds raised by the levy, with non-RTÉ outlets receiving more support from it.

The spokesperson said that people should not be allowed to get away with not paying the licence.

“I would have a look at the entire licence fee. It is the law of the land, it has to be collected,” Mr Moynihan said.

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