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Ireland tops global ranking for privacy protection but safeguards only ‘adequate’

Extra.ie logo Extra.ie 18/10/2019 George Morahan
Leo Varadkar, Helen Dixon are posing for a picture © Provided by Associated Newspapers (Ireland) Limited, t/a dmg Media Ireland

Ireland has topped a ranking of 47 developed nations that assesses the state of surveillance and measures put in place to protect the privacy of citizens.

The country was given a score of 3.2 out of five in the Comparitech study, which judged countries on their use of biometrics, CCTV, their data sharing and retention laws and other areas of privacy protection and surveillance.

No country was considered to have consistent safeguards in place to protect the privacy of its citizens, and Ireland was one of only five deemed to have ‘adequate safeguards’, alongside France (3.2), Portugal (3.1), Denmark (3.1) and Malta (3.0).

Paschal Donohoe, Paschal Donohoe are posing for a picture: Public Services Card Illegal © Provided by Associated Newspapers (Ireland) Limited, t/a dmg Media Ireland Public Services Card Illegal

Comparitech praised the ‘active role’ taken by the Data Protection Commission (DPC), the de facto European regulator for big tech, in protecting privacy due to its 18 ongoing investigations into Irish-based multinationals such as Facebook, Apple and Google.

a close up of Helen Dixon © Provided by Associated Newspapers (Ireland) Limited, t/a dmg Media Ireland

Speaking to Extra.ie, report author Paul Bischoff said the DPC, which only received a third of the additional funding it requested in last week’s Budget, had been ‘on the front lines’ of protection privacy in Europe and praised the it for ‘pushing back’ against tech multinationals’ efforts to store EU data in the US.

Ireland also scored well for its resistance to using biometric data such as fingerprints on ID cards in the face of EU directives in the ID cards category — despite the ongoing controversy around the handling of Public Services Card holders’ personal data.

a screen shot of Mark Zuckerberg: Ireland Privacy Protection © Provided by Associated Newspapers (Ireland) Limited, t/a dmg Media Ireland Ireland Privacy Protection

Ireland attained its highest scored in the data sharing category (3.7) due to its non-participation in EU data-sharing treaties such as the Schengen Agreement and the Prüm Convention, opt-outs for EU laws as well as its role in overturning the EU’s data retention directive due to privacy and human rights breaches.

Melania Trump, Donald Trump, Xi Jinping, Peng Liyuan posing for the camera: Ireland Privacy Protection © Provided by Associated Newspapers (Ireland) Limited, t/a dmg Media Ireland Ireland Privacy Protection

Bischoff said GDPR guaranteed a ‘certain level of privacy’ and ensured that all EU countries performed fairly well, but Ireland had not taken EU agreements ‘at face value’ and picked the parts it wanted to opt-out of.

‘Ireland has been good about picking and choosing what is best for its citizens’ privacy, as opposed to letting other countries legislate for it,’ he said, adding that Ireland had done a ‘pretty good job’ of enforcing its privacy laws.

Comparitech was, however, critical of Ireland’s weakened protections for sensitive data following several breaches in the medical industry, with 465 breaches involving personal information held by HSE taking place between January 2018 and May this year.

Bischoff also highlighted the grey area around CCTV, with the DPC last year giving the green light to community CCTV schemes that had been authorised by the Garda Commissioner, subsidised by a €1m government fund.

He said there were some safeguards around visual surveillance in Ireland but weakened protections and that there was ‘a fine line between criminal protection and an invasion of privacy’.

The study was also wary of the concentrated ownership of media outlets, which has been deemed the single largest threat to press freedom in Ireland, and was mixed on legal protections for journalists, citing a case in which a court ruled that a journalist did not have to give up a source but fined them for destruction of evidence.

China was the bottom of the table with a score of 1.8 for ‘extensive surveillance’ or its citizens, followed by Russia (2.1) and India (2.4), which were both criticised for ‘systematic failure to maintain safeguards’.

Italy, Hungary, Slovenia, Germany and Spain were the lowest ranked EU countries, all judged to have some safeguards and weakened protections for their use of biometrics, CCTV and adherence to data-sharing agreements.

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