Wednesday, 6 October 2010
Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform
Question 254: To ask the Minister for Justice and Law Reform the actions he will take to advance Ireland's position in seeking to block a European Commission initiative that would allow the free transfer of personal data on EU citizens to Israel. [35458/10]
Question 255: To ask the Minister for Justice and Law Reform the rationale for his position to block Israeli access to potentially sensitive data on European citizens; and the next steps in the process. [35459/10]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 254 and 255 together.
Article 25 of EU Directive 95/46/EC (the 'Data Protection Directive') prohibits the transfer of personal data from EU member states to a non-EU state unless the country in question provides an adequate level of protection of personal data in its national legislation. Article 25(6) provides that the European Commission may, subject to procedures set out in the Directive, reach a conclusion that a particular non-EU state ensures an adequate level of data protection in their domestic law. Where the Commission has satisfied itself that an adequate level of protection exists in such a country, a formal Decision to that effect must be adopted. However, before the Commission can adopt such a Decision, the member states must, on the basis of qualified majority vote, approve it.
Earlier this year, the Commission prepared a draft Decision confirming the adequacy of Israeli data protection legislation in so far as it applies to automated processing of personal data. The proposal was discussed at a meeting of member state representatives on 20 May and was later circulated for approval by written procedure with a deadline of 6 July. I asked my Department to block the written procedure prior to this deadline and the proposal was subsequently discussed at a further meeting on 2 September.
The Government's concerns in relation to the Commission's proposal originated in the fraudulent use of Irish passports by suspects in a high-profile assassination in Dubai in January last. Our first concern has been that Israeli data protection law applies only to the processing of personal data in automated databases. It appears that the manual transcription of passport details, or photocopying such details from a passport, at a point of entry into Israel would not be covered by Israel's data protection law. Furthermore, we are concerned that Israel's data protection authority, which appears to be based within rather than at arm's length from the Justice Ministry, may not enjoy a sufficient level of independence to enforce data protection safeguards to the standards required by the Data Protection Directive.
At the meeting on 2 September, the European Commission said that it needed time to consider the issues we had raised and it did not seek member state approval for the draft Decision. Any future action on our part will of course depend on whether the Commission proceeds with the draft Decision at a future meeting and, if so, the extent to which our concerns have been taken into account.