Seanad debates

Wednesday, 9 November 2022

Data Protection Act 2018: Motion


10:30 am

Photo of Dara CallearyDara Calleary (Mayo, Fianna Fail) | Oireachtas source

I thank Senators for the invitation to discuss the motion on the draft regulations. I also wish to acknowledge and thank the members of the Joint Committee on Enterprise, Trade and Employment for their consideration of the draft measures two weeks ago. I understand that my opening statement is being circulated with a briefing note on the background to the draft regulations.

In summary, the purpose of the draft regulations is to protect important statutory functions in respect of the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission, CCPC, the Corporate Enforcement Authority, CEA, and the Irish Auditing and Accounting Supervisory Authority, IAASA, which can lead to a range of enforcement activities. All three statutory bodies have the power to take civil court proceedings or adopt administrative measures in certain circumstances to enforce the law. The bodies work closely with each other and other regulatory and enforcement authorities in Ireland and within the EU.

When the general data protection regulation, GDPR, was introduced in 2018, it strengthened the rights of individuals in respect of the privacy and fair use of their personal data. It also introduced a balancing provision, under Article 23, to ensure that this did not undermine the statutory functions of public bodies. Accordingly, section 60 of the Data Protection Act 2018 provides that the statutory instruments we are considering today may be introduced to protect important objectives of general public interest. Examples of such objectives specified in the Act and included in the draft instruments are: avoiding obstructions to any official or legal inquiry; taking any action for the purpose of considering and investigating a complaint made to a regulatory body in respect of persons carrying out a profession or other regulated activity; and preventing, detecting, investigating or prosecuting breaches of the law that are subject to civil or administrative sanctions. What is being prevented is the potential for data protection rights to be used as a way of undermining these and other essential functions. This could be done by way of a data access request or multiple requests seeking the disclosure and possibly amendment or deletion of information that is part of an active investigation or inquiry that therefore fundamentally undermines the processes under way.

Turning to the content of the draft regulations, each instrument is composed along the same lines of policy and technical approach. They were prepared with the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel, which we thank for its work, and in close consultation with the three bodies. The draft regulations restrict data protection rights only in so far as is necessary and proportionate to protect the functions of the statutory agencies. Therefore, any restrictions must be considered on a case-by-case basis. Each body must notify the individual data subject and provide reasons for the restriction. The data subject must also be informed of the right to lodge a complaint with the Data Protection Commission.

In accordance with the provisions of the Data Protection Act, the Department consulted with the Data Protection Commission and the Minister for Justice on the draft regulations. Following that consultative process, the Data Protection Commission wrote to confirm that it has not identified any matter which is of significant concern in relation to the proposed regulations. The Minister for Justice has also acknowledged her agreement with the proposed measures. The legal instruments are balanced and proportionate, and there are strong policy reasons for adopting the restrictions sought. There is a reasonable expectation that the absence of restrictions to access to personal data will pose a serious risk to the statutory functions of these high-profile bodies. It is in the public interest that they are able to function effectively and efficiently. Therefore, for the purposes of their civil and administrative enforcement functions, it is appropriate that they be permitted to avail of the section 60 restrictions. I commend the three separate statutory instruments to the House. I thank the Acting Chairperson and the Senators for their time.


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