The Interview: Data Protection Minister Dara Murphy TD (video)

26 Jan 2015

Dara Murphy, TD, Minister for Data Protection

In his first public interview as Minister for Data Protection, Dara Murphy, TD, said websites will soon move to provide consumers with explicit rather than implied consent about how their data is used and shared.

Speaking with ahead of International Data Privacy Day on Wednesday (28 January) Minister Murphy agreed that in the past two years Irish citizens have grown in experience when it comes to data protection issues – from security breaches on e-commerce sites like Paddy Power to how their PPS numbers are handled by bodies like Irish Water.

Ireland is one of the first countries in Europe to appoint a dedicated Data Protection Minister, all the more necessary due to the fact that 29 of the top 30 technology companies on the planet have operations in Ireland.

“But it is also about citizens and people. We are engaging to an every-increasing extent with data and how it is protected, handled and shared is becoming more and more important to us.”

Data integrity

We live in a world where thanks to increased terrorist attacks governments across Europe are calling out for increased surveillance of social media sites. Questions have also arisen about how social media sites use our data to sell advertising.

This is also a world where thanks to Wikileaks and Edward Snowden, we know more about the surveillance efforts at play, not to mention the consistent threats of cybercrime and other crimes against privacy online.

In a very real way Ireland has become part of this debate thanks to a court case in New York between Microsoft and the US Government over US law agencies being able to access emails stored on a server in a Microsoft data centre in Dublin.

At stake is the integrity and security stored on Irish and indeed European soil. In December, Minister Murphy filed an amicus curiae (friend of the court) brief to defend the privacy of Irish and European citizens.

It isn’t the first time Ireland has found itself in the limelight over data protection. In the past two years Ireland’s Data Protection Commission, from a small office in Portarlington, has spearheaded worldwide audits of social networking sites like Facebook and LinkedIn.

Murphy described the performance of the Data Protection Commission under previous commissioner Billy Hawkes and recently appointed commissioner Helen Dixon as “exemplary” and said that resources are being increased.

The Data Protection Commission is to open a new office in Dublin and hire 45 new people.

“Given as you say correctly the increase in requirement for a very robust regulatory system and to have that properly resources we secured a doubling of the resources and funding terms of up to €3.65m. Bearing in mind most of that will go into hiring additional personnel and that has been welcomed by Helen and will be of significant help to them in doing their job.”

Good practice by government

Murphy said he has met with all the department secretaries of the Irish government to make clear their responsibilities when it comes to data protection.

A particularly ugly affair was public anger at Irish Water gathering PPS numbers of homeowners.

The ensuing outcry saw Environment Minister Alan Kelly reverse the “mandatory” process and now Irish Water has to delete PPS numbers that it has gathered.

Minister Murphy explained he told the secretary generals to look very carefully at their responsibilities in protecting the citizens of Ireland’s data when and if it is given to them.

“We have to have constant regard that the data that is collected either by the State or semi-State sector or indeed by private businesses is relevant to the proper function of a department.

“A similar engagement is now occurring with the Department of Education about records collected for primary school children”

Protecting your own data

One of the key things that Murphy wants to bring to his role as Data Protection Minister is educating people about the responsibility they too must take over their own data.

He said when it comes to social media there is a whole layer of challenges in respect of implied consent for data sharing that will be tackled by new data protection regulations.

“The new regulations will help because what has happened to data is a large amount of implied consent.

“In the future we will see more explicit consent.

“So when you sign up to various internet services be they social media, rather than ticking a box to say you don’t comply with certain practices, it will be the other way around: it would have to be explicit consent.”

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years