Irish unease on data protection above EU average

17 Apr 2008

Over two thirds (67pc) of Irish people are concerned that their personal data is not being handled appropriately by organisations, according to a new EU survey.

The Irish level of unease is above the EU average of 64pc recorded in the EU Barometer Survey, Data protection in the European Union: Citizens’ Perceptions.

Less than half (48pc) of EU citizens feel their data is properly protected in their own country, the survey found. In Ireland, the number of people who felt this was above the EU average at 62pc.

Some 67pc of Europeans were worried about leaving personal data on the internet, with 79pc of Irish respondents worried about this, the third- highest rate in the EU.

The survey also revealed that over half (54pc) of respondents in the EU and in Ireland felt national legislation could not cope with the growing number of people leaving personal data on the internet.

Some 77pc of respondents felt there was a low level of awareness about data protection in their home country. Irish people were seventh-most likely to believe this (83pc).

Despite the worries about data protection, the level of concern has only changed slightly across the EU since the early Nineties when surveys in this area were first carried out. Two thirds of EU respondents were concerned about data protection in 1991. Since then, the number has fluctuated before returning in 2008 to levels similar to 1991, the EU said.

EU citizens most trusted medical services, doctors and public institutions with their personal information. Mail order companies were the least trusted.

Confidence in organisations’ ability generally to handle data correctly has risen since the early Nineties, however. Only market and opinion research companies saw a continuing decrease in levels of trust over the past 17 years. Confidence in medical professionals and doctors, non-profit organisations and mail order companies has remained at the same level over the past five years

Only 29pc of respondents knew that sensitive data like information about racial or ethnic origins, political opinions and so on received special legal protection. A small minority (17pc) had heard that personal data could only be transferred outside the EU to countries that ensured an adequate level of data protection.

The survey also found that older people were less likely to trust organisations with their personal data.

Almost three quarters (72pc) reported not having heard of a data protection authority in their country, although each member state has one.

EU citizens are also worried about data security on the internet, the research noted, with a large majority of those respondents who were nternet users reasoning that data transmission over the internet was not sufficiently secure (82pc). Only 15pc of respondents trusted such data security transfers.

“It is our intention to fully analyse and understand the feedback we have been given by Europe’s citizens in this survey and we will ensure these comments inform the work we are doing in this area this year,” pledged Jacques Barrot, vice-president of the European Commission. “I am convinced this survey will also be a salutary lesson for all stakeholders involved in handling personal data and maintaining data protection.”

By Niall Byrne