The Data Protection Commissioner (DPC) has defended her office from accusations of consistent inertia as “relying on very sensationalist statements based on inaccurate information”.
A hearing of the justice committee on Tuesday focused on GDPR and heard from DPC Helen Dixon along with three witnesses who spoke critically of the regulator’s performance.
Austrian activist Max Schrems — best known for his eight-year case against Facebook which saw the Court of Justice of the European Union rule that the social media giant’s method of sharing data with the US is illegal — said that the DPC, in his opinion, “has an extremely poor understanding of the material law provisions of the GDPR and in addition makes every procedural mistake you can think of”.
He said it would be “logical” for the commission to fill its two vacant seats for additional commissioners in order to “massively improve the quality of decisions”, a course of action the DPC has previously said it cannot take of its own volition, but only on the instruction of the Government.
Meanwhile, Fred Logue, one of Ireland’s most prominent privacy solicitors, said he agreed with Mr Schrems “that complaints are taking too long”, that the DPC has “no documented procedures”, and that the methods used by the regulator “do not lead to efficient or fair complaint handling”.
He said that while the DPC’s final decisions “are generally of good quality … the procedure to get there is tortuous to the extent that it often serves no real purpose”.
Ms Dixon, who appeared in a second session of the hearing along with Dr Johnny Ryan, senior fellow with the Irish Council of Civil Liberties and a frequent critic of the DPC’s perceived ponderous decision-making, denied that the regulator is incapable of taking criticism, and said she would not be doing her job if she did not point out inaccuracies in others’ statements.
“That isn’t to reject criticism,” she said.
“We produce decisions in 60% of cases we see within the calendar year they’re received.
“We acknowledge that there are improvements necessary in processes,” she said, adding that changes are in train to that end.
She said by way of example, that a suggestion by Mr Logue that the DPC publish details of its processes would be actioned.
She said that it was a statement of fact that not every complaint received by the DPC necessarily merited an investigation, an issue which explain the complaints to Sinn Fein’s Martin Kenny by his constituents, complaints which he had questioned her over.
Dr Ryan said that “systematic infringements of fundamental rights go unchecked by the DPC”.
He said that the DPC had failed to resolve 98% of the 196 cases in which it has asserted its lead role ahead of all other EU regulators, a fact he described as being “a sobering statistic”.
“DPC inaction has forced other EU member states to sidestep Ireland,” he said.
“If this continues we will lose our relevance as a regulatory centre.”