Public Accounts Committee’s Request for Information and GDPR

Last year the Public Accounts Committee sent a request for information to the Dept.of Finance in relation to fees charged to that department by barristers.
In a previous blog, data protection consultants GDPRXpert discussed examples of how the GDPR was used as an excuse for not supplying information, in situations where supplying the information was perfectly legitimate. Some examples showed how ill-informed people were, while others belonged at the farcical and ludicrous end of the spectrum. What we are examining today lies at the more nuanced end. Legitimate positions can be taken by both sides but to repeat what we have stated previously, the GDPR does not exist in isolation. Rather, it is about balancing rights and proportionality. Remember the removal of the visitor books from the heritage sites? If you wish to refresh your memory on this go to this GDPRXpert blog.


The Public Accounts Committee

The Committee of Public Accounts (PAC) is) is a standing committee of Dáil Éireann which focuses on ensuring public services are run efficiently and achieve value for money. It acts as a public spending watchdog and by virtue of this role it has become one of the most powerful Oireachtas committees. It has a key role to play in ensuring that there is accountability and transparency in the way government agencies allocate, spend and manage their finances, and guaranteeing that the taxpayer receives value for money. PAC is a standing committee of the Dáil and is responsible for examining and reporting on reports of the Comptroller and Auditor General on departmental expenditure and certain other accounts. It also considers the Comptroller and Auditor General’s reports on his or her examinations of economy, efficiency, effectiveness evaluation systems, procedures, and practices.

Despite a recent adverse court decision relating to questioning of former Rehab Ireland CEO Patricia Kerins, the committee can rightly claim to do an excellent oversight job on behalf of the Irish taxpayer. Our view is clear. That particular episode was caused by some overzealous committee members and an overzealous chairman. ‘Over the top’ is the most appropriate colloquialism to describe the treatment of Ms Kerins. Giving the judgment of the entire court the Chief Justice stated, “the actions of the PAC as a whole were such they condoned the “significant departure” by at least three members of PAC from the terms of its invitation to Ms Kerins to appear before it”. (See Irish Times, 29 May 2019, “Supreme Court says PAC treated Angela Kerins in ‘unlawful’ manner”). The most consistent criticism stemmed from the manner in which PAC acted outside its remit and terms of reference.

Our view is that the PAC performs an excellent oversight job to ensure value for money for the taxpayer. Data protection consultants were impressed by the committee when it recently had Helen Dixon and some of her staff at a hearing in September of last year (2019). are making that link available here. At present, the committee has an excellent chairperson in Sean Fleming, and well-briefed committed members.

Apple is  happy to appeal

The Apple Money

There was much criticism from public representatives, the media and the general public when the Government decided to appeal the decision in the Apple case. Indeed, Fintan O’Toole described it as a disastrous miscalculation. The European Commission had found that Ireland had provided €13BN to Apple, which in the opinion of the Commission represented illegal state aid under EU Competition Law. The Commission said Apple’s tax arrangements in Ireland gave it ‘a significant advantage over other businesses that are subject to the same national taxation rules’, violating EU state aid laws. Although the government had indicated back in 2016 its intention to appeal the decision it was still compelled to collect the money owed. Over €14BN (principal amount + interest) was placed in an escrow account by Apple, until the appeal process is concluded. At the end of last year, the government confirmed that over €7Million had been spent on legal fees, consultancy fees, and other related costs.

Money, money, money.


Bearing in mind the role of the PAC which we have described earlier, it was to be expected that the committee may have had questions about the use of public money in the context of this appeal. Legal fees formed the bulk of the costs associated with the appeal to date, and the appeal process is still not exhausted. There is a possibility that, depending upon the result from the lower General Court, the case could yet end up before the CJEU and drag on for a few more years. The knowledge that this possibility was real may have augmented the desire of the PAC for some further information on the value for money aspect of the legal fees. The Dept of Finance was responsible for the payment of the legal and other costs associated with the appeal.

The GDPR Perspective

Prior to the introduction of the GDPR there never seemed to be an impediment to the release of legal fees charged by legal teams involved in, for example, the various tribunals over the years. Legal firms were named and their charges were public knowledge (thanks to the terms of reference and /or the FOI Act). A PAC report from January 2011 details how legal fees can reach exorbitant levels and the vast amounts paid to individual legal professionals. Again, there is no surprise and nothing unexpected or unusual in the PAC requesting the information on barrister charges in relation to the Apple appeal.

What is surprising is the response of the Dept. of Finance to this request for information.
A response from the Dept. briefly outlined its reason for its non-compliance with the request for information. In essence, the Dept cited the GDPR as the justification for not acceding to the request. The rationale seems to be very simplistic and dogmatic:
The information is personal data under the GDPR;
We  have a lawful basis to process  personal data but in this case, our advice is not to share  the data;
The  individual right to privacy trumps any right the PAC may have to access the data; and
that’s our story and we’re sticking to it!

Individual’s right to privacy V Public Interest


Some possible solutions

Names of tax defaulters are published by the Revenue Commissioners. The commissioners have a clear legal basis for this under the Tax Consolidation Acts. Despite being underpinned by legislation it still represents an interference with privacy rights. Crucially, it is not disproportionate and is done in the public interest. It is arguable that this is much more invasive than a barrister’s fees being disclosed to the PAC. Any barrister doing legal work for govt. departments would expect that their fees could be reviewed by civil servants and others at some point in the future.
There are no confidentiality agreements regarding fees for legal work done for the State. Legal privilege is one thing. Legal confidentiality over fees charged is a whole other thing. Transparency and accountability are overriding factors when it comes to assessing taxpayer value for money spent.

Historically, the practice of disclosing the names of barristers, along with the fees paid to them by Government departments and public bodies, is a longstanding one, and the refusal to disclose similar information represents an unannounced change of practice. Citing the GDPR as the reason for this change of practice is unjustified. The GDPR does not preclude the information on any barrister’s fees being disclosed to the PAC.

....or Public Interest Please

The routes available to the PAC

Art.6 (1) (f) of GDPR provides an appropriate legal basis exists for the PAC to process the personal data concerned, i.e the names and fees charged by individual barristers. It states, “processing is necessary for the purposes of the legitimate interests pursued by a controller or a third party except where such interests are overridden by the interests or fundamental rights and freedoms of the data subject…” Here is a valid reason for the Dept. of Finance to furnish the details. PAC is not a “public authority” for the purposes of the GDPR or the DPA 2018, and so strict limitations on the use of the “legitimate interests” basis do not apply. (See Recital 47, GDPR)
Under s.60 of the Data Protection Act 2018 restrictions are set on the obligations of data controllers and the rights of data subjects for “important objectives of general public interest”. The rights and obligations referred to are those under Arts 12-22 and Art 34 GDPR. S.60 (3) (c) DPA 2018 continues with restrictions where the personal data are kept “by the C&AG for the performance of his or her official functions”.


Bearing in mind the role of the C&AG (The C&AG’s mission is to provide independent assurance that public funds and resources are used in accordance with the law, managed to good effect and properly accounted for and to contribute to improvement in public administration) it is proper that the information the PAC is seeking would be available without question to the C&AG from the Dept of Finance. It is certain that the C&AG would look favourably on any request from the PAC for the details of the legal charges they are seeking. There would be a clear understanding by the C&AG of the legitimacy of the request from the PAC. Unlike the action of the Dept of Finance, there would be no hiding behind the GDPR.

If complications and confrontations continue in relation to requests by the PAC for information that contains personal data, there is a longer-term measure that could be utilised. This would involve amending the Data Sharing and Governance Act of 2019. A most appropriate amendment is one that includes the PAC within the definition of “public body”. Personal data from other public bodies could then be shared with the PAC. Appropriate restrictions could be placed on the categories of data to be shared. Data sharing within the amended act would be such that is necessary and proportionate to facilitate the proper functioning of the PAC in “ensuring public services are run efficiently and achieve value for money”.
However, it never should have to come to this. It would not if departments such as the dept. of finance looked at the request in light of the public interest and in the light of the work the PAC does in the public interest. The PAC places transparency and accountability foremost in its quest to ensure public money spent achieves value for money.

In a letter to the PAC, Deputy Commissioner Dara Walsh reiterated a view shared by many within the data protection community. This view is that the privacy interests of individual barristers do not trump or override the public interest in seeing how State money was being spent. “Barristers could have no expectation that the legal fees expended by the DPC as a public body would not be subject to parliamentary and public scrutiny,” he concluded. Furnishing the details of fees to the PAC may also serve to show there is or there is no impropriety involved. Simply put: barrister A is not getting all the work.

Somewhat ironically, Graham Doyle, deputy data protection commissioner, said the DPC was also recently before the PAC and asked about similar payments to third-party organisations and individual service providers, such as barristers. Not only did it provide the information on the companies, but also gave a detailed breakdown on individual barristers, and this was after the introduction of the GDPR ( ) The commonsense answer suggested by the PAC, and supported by the DPC, is that people tendering for such work be made aware their payments will be publicly disclosed.
P.S. Considering that a general election has just been announced, we will repost a previous blog on the GDPR and elections. It is important that candidates and voters are aware of rights and responsibilities, at a time where personal data are being quickly processed.
Patrick Rowland,

We are GDPR and Data Protection Consultants, with bases in Carlow/ Kilkenny and Mayo, offering a nationwide service.

For more details visit

Right to Rectification and Principle of Accuracy

The right to rectification and the right of access were (and still are) guaranteed under the Charter of Fundamental of the European Union. Art. 8(2), “Everyone has the right of access to data which has been collected concerning him or her, and the right to have it rectified. “ The Charter has applied to the EU since the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty on 1 December 2009 and so it predates the GDPR. It was Art.16 of The Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) which imposed the specific obligation on the EU legislature to actually make data protection rules, and it was this that eventually led to the GDPR.

Art.16 GDPR sets out in stronger and clearer language the right to rectification. It is a right that is wisely read in conjunction with the principle of accuracy under Art. 5(1) (d) of the GDPR.  As an individual data protection principle, the principle of accuracy stands alone only in the text itself. It is intertwined with all the other principles to form a greater whole. Article 5(1)(d) states that personal data shall be, “accurate and, where necessary, kept up to date; every reasonable step must be taken to ensure that personal data that are inaccurate, having regard to the purposes for which they are process, are erased or rectified without delay  ( ‘accuracy’)”.  Let us remember that Art. 15, the right of access, is often the starting point for other requests. For example, it is this same article that facilitates other rights, because it gives the data subject the right to obtain confirmation on whether his or her data are being processed in the first place. If in fact personal data are being processed, then the data subject can have inaccurate data rectified or have incomplete data made complete. Sometimes this is best achieved, and facilitated, by means of a short supplementary statement. Therefore, Art.15 can work in two ways: 1) by completing incomplete data; 2) by rectifying inaccurate data. In the case of Max Schrems,  (  Case C-362/14) ( 16 Oct.2015), one of the defects identified by the CJEU was that there “was no means of enabling the data concerning the data subject to be accessed and, as the case may be, rectified or erased”( At para.90). The starting point is again, the knowledge that personal data are being processed in the first place.

Under the old Data Protection Acts (‘the acts) many complaints were received and processed concerning the right to rectification and the right to erasure of inaccurate data. Not many cases have come up for scrutiny since the introduction of GDPR, but future case types will likely mirror some from the pre-GDPR days. Sometimes looking back can act as an accurate guide to what may occur in the future. Below are some interesting cases that contain scenarios and circumstances that could resurface. They will give a taste of the substance of the right.

EMI Records v The Data Protection Commissioner [2012] IEHC 264

This case was a leading case on the processing of inaccurate personal data and went to court under the old acts.

Brief Facts:  Eircom a telecommunications provider had been operating a scheme whereby recording companies were detecting on the internet those who were uploading their copyrighted music and video. The recording company passed on the information consisting of copyright title, time and temporary IPM address to Eircom. Eircom then wrote to their subscribers reminding them that downloading copyrighted material was in breach of their subscriber contract. Those who continued illegally downloading would have to find a new telecommunications provider as Eircom would no longer provide internet service.

In October 2010 Eircom forgot to change the clocks to reflect new wintertime. As a result, it wrongfully identified some people as illegally downloading, when they were not. The DPC issued an enforcement notice at the time directing that it cease its activities. The case gives a sense of what might be viewed as inaccurate processing of personal data. In this instance , the practice ceased. This was despite the fact the judge in the High Court found the enforcement notice from the DPC contained ‘no reasons whatsoever’, and ruled it invalid.

Smeaton v Equifax plc [2013] EWCA Civ 108 (20 Feb. 2013)

This case throws up some interesting issues and perspectives on the concept of accuracy. The defendant was a UK credit registry whose database indicated the plaintiff was subject to a bankruptcy order. In fact, the order had been made originally at first instance, but stayed upon appeal, and then rescinded. The plaintiff claimed for losses and damages resulting from the inaccuracy. Initially, the claim was successful but overturned on appeal.

What makes the case unusual is that the plaintiff had acted as a lay litigant in challenging the bankruptcy order. Generally, in cases such as this a solicitor would represent the litigant and inform the credit registry the client had been discharged. Smeaton’s argument was that Equifax should have been aware of the discharge, notwithstanding his self-representation. Again, it has to be stressed that this was an unusual case and decided on its own particular facts. The Court recognised that the old English Data Protection Act 1988 did,   “not impose an absolute and unqualified obligation on Credit Reporting Agencies to ensure the entire accuracy of the data they maintain. Questions of reasonableness arise”.

An important consideration when questioning certain rights, if not all rights, under the GDPR is to realise that the extent of a right, and the degree to which it may be vindicated, may in the more contentious case go all the way to the final arbiter, the CJEU. Proportionality and the balancing of rights are paramount under EU law. It is only when it reaches this forum that jurisprudential reasoning truly asserts itself. The CJEU will define the parameters and specific meanings of words in the legislative text.    Even though Smeaton v Equifax goes back to 2013, it is still good authority for the proposition that controllers are not under an absolute duty to ensure the accuracy of their data.

There have been 30 cases cited in the first annual report of the DPC since the introduction of GDPR in relation to the right to rectification in the first annual report of the DPC since the introduction of the GDPR, available here.

Case Study 3/2018.

Again this is one of the recent cases from the DPC Annual  Report 2018 that highlights the close relationship between the accuracy principle and the Right to Rectification. The DPC received a complaint from a Ryanair customer whose webchat details were erroneously sent to another Ryanair web chat user. Of course, issues of integrity and confidentiality come into play also. On the date in question, the data processor received requests from four Ryanair customers for transcripts of their web-chats, all of which were processed by the same agent. However, the agent did not correctly change the recipient email address when sending each transcript so that they were sent to the wrong recipients. Included among the recommendations was one that recipient e-mails should be changed to ensure accuracy and using the autofill function in their software with extreme caution. Ryanair subsequently informed the DPC that their autofill function in their live web chat system had been disabled by their data processor.

Perhaps it is due to the nature of the business, and a strong desire for expediency, that credit reference agencies have historically been disproportionately involved in breaches, compared to other businesses. We can look at a few of the more interesting ones.

Case Study 2/1997

This complaint was received concerning the combination of data about two different people into the database of a credit reference agency. Human error was at fault, as the two individuals lived in the same area and had the same names. At the time, the credit reference agency had a policy of matching up similar data. A particular financial institution was supplying personal data to the agency, but between the two records became intermingled. The DPC upheld the complaint.

Case Study 6/1999.

A principle seldom becomes obsolete unless legislative action deems it so. At issue here was an issue that remains a problem in the context of personal data processing. The complainant had repaid a loan, but the credit reference agency’s files showed the loan as a default. For clarity, we are still talking here about provisions under the ‘old acts’,  but as was found in this case, not keeping records “up to date” is a breach under the GDPR.

Case Study 8/1997

A credit reference agency’s records showed that the complainant had had a loan written off. That was correct. It also stated that litigation was pending for the non-payment of the loan. This part of the record was incorrect. No action was pending. As a result of the investigation, the DPC found the record held, “was inaccurate in stating that litigation was pending”. This case shows that even though the agency had some factually correct personal data, and few would advance monies to the complainant on the basis of the default, there was an inaccuracy in their records.

Case Study 6/1999

 Inaccurate credit rating assessments of a complainant gave rise to this case. Three loans had been taken out by the defendant and all three had been fully paid off. However, the agency wrongly recorded one as still outstanding. What was stated by the DPC remains true, and it is that there is a “clear and active obligation on data controllers to ensure that data is kept accurate and up to date”. The concept of ‘reasonableness’, referred to above in Smeaton v Equifax, is an abiding concept.

Case Study 12/2009.

 Here the results of a paternity test, a very sensitive issue, were sent to the wrong address. They were read by the complainant’s neighbour who now knew that his neighbour was not the father of child X.


Case Study 18/2009

What happened here was that a court summons was incorrectly served. It was served to the wrong person. As far as I remember, this was another that ended up at a neighbour’s house. Something most of us would naturally prefer not to happen.

Recently, (30th April 2019), The DPC issued an examination of the right to rectification complaints and it is accessible here. At its core is an attempt to clarify aspects of the right to rectification. As we mentioned above, there is a strong relationship between the right to rectification and the principle of accuracy. What the DPC notes is that ” Individuals have a right to rectification of their personal data under data protection legislation. What the right to rectification means in practice will depend on the circumstances of each case and the Data Protection Commission (DPC) examines each case that comes before it on its individual merits.” In practice, this means that all data controllers will be required to take all reasonable steps to ensure the accuracy of the personal data, taking account of the circumstance of the processing, the nature of the personal data and in particular, the purposes for which they are processed.

“In respect of complaints received by the DPC in relation to the recording of a name without diacritical marks, e.g. the síneadh fada in the Irish language, consideration has to be given, in light of Article 5(1)(d)  and Article 16 GDPR, to whether the recording of a name without diacritical marks is deemed to be inaccurate, having regard to the purposes for which the data (in this case, a data subject’s name) are processed”. This is a reference to the Ciarán Ó Cofaigh case reported in the Irish Times here.  What if a  John Coyle ( with excellent credit rating) had credit record details that identified him as a John Boyle with poor credit rating?   Is there really a difference between a mistaken letter in a person’s name and a missing fada, especially where the omission or the mistake can  result in a detriment to the data subject?  ( Or in this case,  is it discrimination against a Gaeilgeoir?) Your name is either correct or not correct, and this is not a hair-splitting exercise. Simple mistakes happen, but they must be rectified and made accurate before there is a detriment to the data subject.

“In a related context, the European Court of Human Rights has concluded that the omission of diacritical marks from a person’s name in certain official documents did not entail a breach of the right to private and family life guaranteed under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights: see, for example, Šiškins and Šiškina v Latvia (Application no. 59727/00, 8 November 2001).” Expect more related cases, but under the GDPR these will be going to the CJEU.

Patrick Rowland, GDPRXpert. ie

Data Protection Consultants, GDPRXpert,  based in Carlow/Kilkenny and Mayo, provide a nationwide service.

Visit to learn more. 


The GDPR and Elections on the Horizon

What with the never-ending Brexit saga and the continuing toxic political stalemate, it may not be popular to delve into any topic with political associations. Nevertheless, this is the intention, and it is one that is primarily inspired by the upcoming European and Irish local elections. Both sets of elections have a novel element, to the extent that they will be the first Euro and local elections to take place since the introduction of the GDPR and The Data Protection Act 2018.

Key actors on this changed set include a number that may play the role of the data controller. In previous blogs and on our website,  we have seen how the notion of accountability of controllers and joint controllers is a central feature of the GDPR. Individual election candidates, political parties, data analytics companies and public authorities responsible for the electoral process can all act as controllers. It is not within the scope of this blog to discuss all facets, and so the less ambitious plan is to look at election candidates in the light of canvassing related activities. Data protection issues arise whenever personal data is being collected, and at election times it is collected in different forms. Canvassing door to door, direct mail marketing, and electronic direct marketing may raise concerns. More data protection issues surface in relation to requests for representation. Inevitably, organisations that receive these requests must also come under the same scrutiny.


Getting Started.

The focus of this article lies within the confined context of elections and electoral activities, and the application of Union and National law within this defined landscape.  Micro-targeting of voters by unlawful processing of personal data is still fresh in peoples’ minds following on from Cambridge Analytica and other similar disclosures. A starting point is to acknowledge, as stated by the UK’s Information Commission Office (ICO), that, “engaging voters is important in a healthy democracy, and in order to do that, political parties, referendum campaigners and candidates will campaign using a variety of communication methods. However, they must comply with the law when doing so; this includes the handling of the personal data that they collect and hold”. (ICO, Guidance on Political Campaigning; more details here). This is especially true since the inception of the GDPR, The Data Protection Act 2018 and the E-Privacy Regulation.

The Very Basic Ground Rules.

Individuals now have enhanced rights, and these are strengthened and particularly relevant in the electoral context. These rights place onerous responsibilities on candidates seeking office. Primary responsibilities fall on the candidates and affiliated parties where that is the relationship. Public authorities also have responsibilities under the GDPR and the various Electoral Acts. Whoever is processing the personal data, previously viewed as purely mundane, such as names and addresses, must now pay more attention. Simple names and addresses represent ‘personal data’ under the GDPR. Processing of such data must now be done lawfully, fairly and in a transparent manner, and for a defined specified purpose.  Another limitation (purpose limitation) means the personal data are now less likely to be strategically stored with ulterior motives in mind. Data cannot be further processed in a manner incompatible with the purposes for which the data were initially collected. (Note: a few strict exceptions to this rule). There must be some lawful basis for personal data processing. All data protection principles must be followed without any ‘cherry-picking’.

Pre-election days.

Most of us are well used to the barrage of literature that ends up on our hall floors in the run-up to elections. S.39 DPA 2018 specifically allows for the use of personal data for the purpose of communication in writing (including newsletter or circular) with the data subject.  It is qualified and is limited to  ‘specified persons’, namely: a political party; a member of either house of the Oireachtas, the European Parliament or a local authority; or a candidate for election to the office of  The President of Ireland or for membership of any of the above mentioned. Here the DPA 2018 provides a lawful basis for processing. There is a useful guidance booklet available at the DPC website.  Section 59 DPA 2018 expressly modifies Art. 21 GDPR, so that there is no right to object to electoral direct marketing by post. When communicating by text, e-mail, phone or fax a candidate must have prior consent from the constituent. If contact is then lawfully made, it must be clear about its origin, and it must incorporate an easy opt- out.

Frantic times precede elections and normal rules should apply, but it is probably unrealistic for the office of the DPC to expect candidates to include the amount of information described within this pamphlet with their canvassing materials. What is more unrealistic is to expect the same information to be given by a candidate when going door to door. Time constraints make this impractical. It will be interesting to hear from candidates after the elections about how the new regulations and the DPA 2018 affected their campaigns. Just as interesting will be any feedback from constituents concerning the information they were given regarding data protection rights from candidates. Under Art.9 GDPR there is a general prohibition on the processing of special categories of personal data but there are exceptions to the rule. Section 48 DPA 2018 expressly permits one of these special categories of personal data (revealing political opinions) to be processed. Provided safeguards are taken to protect the data subject’s fundamental rights and freedoms,  such data can be processed in the course of electoral activities by a political party, a candidate for election to, or a holder of, elective political office in the State. (Note: applies to Referendum Commission also). The specific purpose is the compiling of data on people’s political opinions. Section 48 DPA 2018 provides a lawful basis.


Requests for Representation

In the course of canvassing at election time, candidates receive numerous requests for representation regarding access to services or the provision of services. Whilst such requests are genuine, they represent a higher level test of a candidate’s knowledge or ability, as perceived by the voter, in the run-up to the election. If a voter gets a favourable and swift response from the candidate the chances are he/she will also get a vote. It is only proper that no short cuts are taken to get this information quickly before Election Day.  When we speak of ‘candidates’, it is important to distinguish between candidates who are current officeholders seeking re-election, and those running for election who do not currently hold any office.  All elected representatives should be aware of, or quickly become familiar with S. 40 Data Protection Act (DPA) 2018. In fact, they should be more conscious of, and extra vigilant in their responsibilities because the number of requests will increase exponentially at election times. Being knowledgeable on S.40 potentially benefits the representative’s reputation. Passing on the relevant specifics of that knowledge to the constituent will deliver benefits to both parties. After the introduction of the GDPR, the office of the DPC issued interpretive guidelines on S. 40 DPA 2018.  Data protection consultants GDPRXpert have the document available here.  We will now look at some of the main points from the guidelines.


Some Guidelines on Requests for Representation.

Sections 40(1) and (2) DPA 2018 gives the legislative basis to elected representatives for the processing of personal data of constituents. This includes the special categories of personal data from Art. 6 GDPR. Processing is allowed where the elected representative either receives a request for representation directly from the data subject or where the elected representative receives a request for representation from another person on behalf of the data subject. In all cases, the elected representative must be able to demonstrate that they are compliant with the principles of data protection.  At a minimum, representatives are obligated to meet their transparency responsibilities set out in the GDPR (especially Arts. 12, 13 &14). An elected representative has an obligation to be certain at all times they are acting upon a request from the voter.


There will be many situations where “the permission can be implied from the relevant action or request. For example, the raising of the matter by an individual will create an expectation that their personal data will be further processed by the elected representative and other relevant organisations”. (DPC Guidelines 2018 p.4)  A normal expectation is that personal data will be processed.  As part of the representative‘s request for information, the local council, for example, will disclose personal details necessary to satisfy the request. However, best practice is to be sure that the constituent is aware of the likely processing, and we recommend a signed consent form. In many instances, a formal, signed consent form may not be practical. Contemporaneous detailed notes should be taken by the representative, and the DPC suggests this as a good record to demonstrate compliance with S.40DPA 2018.

If any unexpected processing becomes necessary it is advisable to revert to the constituent. An elected representative must be careful not to go beyond the specified purposes for which the consent was given. One recommendation from the DPC is that elected representatives should use Privacy Notices when they collect personal details from people and have a Privacy Notice on their website. All notices should meet the transparency requirements and “satisfactorily address the requirements set out in Articles 12, 13, 14 &30 (where relevant) of the GDPR and also should be clear, accessible and informative to help people understand what will be done with their personal information”. (Office of the DPC, 2018) Simple, best advice: be straight with people on all aspects. Following data protection principles will operate to safeguard both the constituent and the elected representative.


Requests From Someone on Behalf of Someone Else

In this scenario, all parties should be extra cautious. Here a request is being made by one person on behalf of another. Common situations include son/daughter on behalf of one or both parents; some family member on behalf of another family member; relative on behalf of another relative; neighbour/friend on behalf of another neighbour/friend, etc. It is no longer sufficient to take the word of one party and accept the bona fides.  Therefore, the elected representative will have to ensure that the individual making the request has the authority from the person whose personal data will be processed on foot of the request. This is a potential minefield and the onus lies on the representative to “demonstrate the data subject has consented to the processing of his or her personal data” (Art.7 (1) GDPR).

Trust is no longer a reliable basis on which to proceed with such a request. Other aspects that merit detailed attention include the competency of the data subject and the legal standing of the person making the request.  For example, is there an enduring power of attorney to manage the affairs of the data subject? Any prudent representative should strive to have a signed consent form provided. Failing that, it will be a decision for the representative whether or not to make a representation.  Where the representative has not been able to fully ascertain the wishes of the individual prior to processing of personal data, he or she should have set out and recorded the specific steps taken to ascertain those wishes. Such records will stand as evidence of reasonable efforts having been made.  This will be crucial at the time the representation is made to the appropriate organisation.


Disclosure by an Organisation following a Request under S.40 DPA 2018.

Written Requests

As noted earlier, there is an exponential increase in the number of requests for representation approaching election time.   Section 40 (4) DPA 2018 gives an organisation the legal basis to respond to and process the personal data on foot of a representation from the elected representative. In doing so the organisation must demonstrate compliance with all the data protection principles under Art. 5 GDPR. A precondition is that the disclosure is necessary and proportionate to enable the representative to deal with the request, and safeguards referred to in S. 36 DPA 2018 are taken. Special categories of personal data are allowed to be processed by the organisation under S. 40(4). Where the organisation receives a written representation on foot of S.40 the organisation can assume the constituent has given permission. In other words, it can accept the bona fides of the representative while at the same time satisfying itself it is reasonable to assume the individual would have no objection to the release of the personal data.

Verbal Requests

With verbal representations from an elected representative to an organisation,  it is advisable that a staff member of the organisation logs appropriate details.  Where the elected representative is present when the representation is made it is good practice to have a short form confirming the details signed by him /her. Best practice is for the organisation to have policies and privacy notices in place that outlines how the organisation deals with requests. Ultimately, the organisation decides whether to accede to requests made. In particular, the organisation must ensure they meet responsibilities under Art. 12, 13, 14 and 30 GDPR. Any disclosure must be only what is necessary and proportionate in its impact on the fundamental rights of the individual. An organisation must consider the potential impact and negative implications of any representation and take safeguards to mitigate any risks.

Mitigating Risks

Mitigating risk must reach a higher level of security in the context of special categories of personal data. These are by their nature sensitive. Extra safeguards are advisable where the representation has been made on behalf of the data subject by another individual due to incapacity or age. Where the personal data falls under the special category class, any safeguards must be strengthened.  It must always be borne in mind that reliance on S.40 (4) DPA 2018 as a legal basis to disclose data on foot of a representation is dependent on certain conditions being met in advance: any processing must be necessary and proportionate and suitable measures must be taken to protect the individual’s rights and freedoms. If an organisation acting on foot of a representation has any concern about the level of awareness on the part of the representative or individual, in relation to the sensitive nature of the personal data, it would be prudent to refer back to both. It is only proper that the individual is fully aware of the implications that will follow the processing of their personal data as a consequence of the request. Both the nature and purpose of the request will influence actions taken. For example, some requests may be time-sensitive and getting explicit consent may not be practical. The DPC advises a common-sense approach be taken.


Personal Data of Third Parties

As a general rule, it is not permissible to process the personal data of third parties under S. 40 DPA 2018. This is allowed under very limited circumstances. If a third party has not been involved in a request for representation processing of  personal data of that third party will not be permissible unless one of the following apply: the third party cannot give explicit consent; the processing is necessary in somebody else’s interest and explicit consent has been “ unreasonably withheld” by the third party; the balance favours the disclosure in the public interest; the elected representative “cannot reasonably be expected to obtain” the third party’s explicit consent; seeking the third party’s explicit consent would “prejudice the action taken by the elected representative.

Other Considerations Re Special Category Data

Earlier we noted how S. 48 DPA 2018 allowed for one category (personal data revealing political opinions ) within the ‘special categories’ grouping. However, S. 40 (1) DPA 2018 allows the general processing of personal data within these special categories. The elected representative in processing such categories must “impose limitations on access to that data to prevent unauthorised consultation, alteration, disclosure or erasure of that data” (S.40 (3) DPA 2018).  In conjunction with these limitations, suitable and specific measures that take on board the provisions of the Data Protection Health  Regulations ( S.I No.82/1989 and S.I. No. 83/1989) should be considered, as these remain in force under S. 58 DPA 2018. Both equally apply to the elected representative and the organisation receiving the representation. These regulations provide that health data relating to an individual should not be made available to an individual, in response to an access request, if that would be likely to cause serious harm to the physical or mental health of the individual.

If a person is not a health care professional, he or she should not disclose health data to an individual without first consulting that individual’s own doctor, or some other suitably qualified healthcare professional. Where it has been deemed appropriate to disclose such information to an elected representative it should include a warning in regard to the sensitive nature of the data. The elected representative will need to apply safeguards outlined in S. 40 (3) DPA 2018. Finally, in relation to processing of personal data that involves criminal convictions or offences (Art. 10 data), any disclosure on foot of a representation will necessitate an assurance from the representative that explicit consent has been obtained for the request.

Much of the foregoing is evidence of the complicated nature of data protection in the context of electoral activities.  A high level of awareness is expected from elected representatives and from organisations that receive representations from them. Once the relevant information is provided by the elected representative a decision should be common sense based. The Office of the DPC believes any refusal by the organisation should be easily explained by reference to S.40 DPA, without citing data protection requirements as a general ground for refusal. Where the organisation has followed S.40 (4) DPA 2018, the GDPR, data protection principles and implemented suitable and specific safeguards it should be confident it has acted in compliance with DPA 2018.

Patrick Rowland,

Data Protection Consultants, with bases in Carlow/Kilkenny and Mayo, offer their expert service nationwide.

Visit to learn more.


DPC Issues Annual Report

The  DPC’s first annual report since the GDPR has just been released. It is  not surprising to observers of developments in the data protection field that at the outset the report remarks , “it is the rise in the number of complaints and queries to data protection authorities across the EU since 25 May 2018 that demonstrates a new level of mobilisation to action on the part of individuals to tackle what they see as misuse or failure to adequately explain what is being done with their data”.(DPC Report, 2018) It is fair to say that pre-GDPR there was very much hype and alarm and this amplified the closer it came to D-Day, May 25th, 2018. Things have changed somewhat since then and if, “ we understand something about the GDPR, it is this: it will be a process of dialogue that lasts many years and the dialogue will need to shift and change with technology, context, learning from evidence (including emerging case law) and evolving societal norms.”(DPC Report, 2018)

We spoke in an earlier blog, and we allude to it on this website, about some misinformation and disinformation that unfortunately increased the sense of alarm and panic pre-GDPR. After May 25th there was more.  It seems the hairdresser who cited GDPR as the reason she could not give her customer details of the hair dye she was using in her customer’s hair is the favourite GDPR myth within the office of the DPC. By the way, the hairdresser’s customer was leaving to go to another hairdresser and wanted to be able to tell the new hairdresser what colour went in her hair, but we can be sure that this had nothing to do with the hairdresser’s response!

Some Facts  From the Report.

  • 2,864 complaints, of these the largest single category was in the category ‘Access Rights’ with 977 complaints, or a little over 34%of the total.
  •  1,928 were complaints under GDPR and of these 868 had been concluded.
  •  total of 3,452 data breaches recorded with the largest single category being ‘Unauthorised Disclosures’ and 38 breaches related to 11 multi-national technology companies.
  •  almost 31,000 contacts were made to the Information and     Assessment unit within the DPC.
  • 15 statutory inquiries (investigations) were opened in relation to the compliance of multinational companies with GDPR.
  • 16 requests  –formal and voluntary- for mutual assistance from other EU data protection authorities.
  • 31 own volition inquiries under the Data Protection Act 2018 into the surveillance of citizens by the state sector, for law enforcement purposes, through the use of technologies such as CCTV, body-worn cameras, automatic number plate recognition, drones and other technologies. These inquiries are conducted by the Special Investigation Unit. This same unit continued its work in relation to the special investigation into the Public Services Card that we have featured on our website recently.
  • 950 general consultations were received, excluding the consultations with multinational technology companies.
  •  900 data protection officer notifications.

In late 2018, the DPC established an advanced technology evaluation and assessment unit (the Technology Leadership Unit – TLU) with the objective of supporting and maximising the effectiveness of the DPC’s supervision and enforcement teams in assessing risks relating to the dynamics of complex systems and technology.

So it has been a busy and productive time for the office of the DPC and they even got time to speak at over 110 events including conferences, seminars and presentations. Late last year the DPC commenced a significant project to develop a new five-year DPC regulatory strategy that will include extensive external consultation during 2019.   It has to be remembered that The DPC received complaints under two substantive parallel legal frameworks during this period:

  • complaints and potential infringements that related to, or occurred,                 before 25 May 2018, must be handled by the DPC under the framework    of the Data Protection Acts 1988 and 2003;
  • and in addition and separately, complaints received by the DPC relating to the period from 25 May 2018 must be dealt with by the DPC under the new EU legal framework of the GDPR and Law Enforcement Directive and the provisions of the Data Protection Act 2018, which give further effect to, or transpose those laws into the laws of Ireland as a Member State of the EU.

The DPC took an active part in the Global Privacy Enforcement Network (GPEN) 6th annual privacy sweep. Data protection authorities from around the world participated and the theme in 2018 was privacy accountability. Accountability is a central element of GDPR. It is a concept that, “requires organisations to take necessary steps to implement applicable data protection rules and regulations, and to be able to demonstrate how these have been incorporated into their own internal privacy programs” (DPC Report 2018).  In the last sweep GPEN aimed to assess how well organisations have implemented accountability into their own internal privacy programmes and policies. One goal was to establish a sort of baseline of an organisation’s compliance with data protection. This was the brief for the DPC, as their input was targeted at randomly selected organisations in Ireland. 30 organisations across a range of sectors completed a suite of pre-set questions relating to privacy accountability. Because the sweep was done in the last quarter of 2018 only preliminary or provisional results are available to date of report. Preliminary results include the following:

  • 86% of organisations have a contact listed for a DPO on their website
  • 75% appear to have adequate data breach policies in place
  • All organisations seem to have some kind of data protection training for staff However, only 38% could provide evidence of training for all staff including new entrants and refresher training
  • In most cases organisations appear to undertake data protection monitoring/self- assessment but not to a sufficiently high level. In this category, 3 out of 29 scored ‘poor’ , while 13 could only reach a ‘satisfactory’ level
  • 1/3 of organisations were unable to show any documented processes in place to assess risks associated with new technology and products
  • 30% of organisations failed to show they had an adequate inventory of personal data, while close to  50% failed to keep a record of data flows

These again are preliminary, and the full results will be more instructive. It is to be emphasised that 30 organisations represent a small sample size.  Nevertheless, there seems to be large deficiencies in staff training and data protection monitoring/ self- assessment. Many issues will be more fully addressed in the coming months when the results of the ‘sweep’ will be available.




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