Creating Confidence in Data Sharing

Issued 1 August 2014

Discussion about greater data-sharing between public agencies does lead some people to worry about “Big Brother” and the “surveillance society”. Fortunately, in Ireland we benefit from strong constitutional protections relating to individual privacy, which are reinforced in terms of data sharing by the extensive safeguards embodied in EU data protection law.

Therefore, when I think about data-sharing, it’s about public bodies maximising the use of digital technologies, allowing us deliver significantly better services to citizens at a substantially lower cost to the taxpayer – the essence of public service reform.

Public bodies collect and store personal data of citizens in the course of their work. Advances in technology allow for transmission and matching of information in ways that were not previously possible. By leveraging data from more than one source, public bodies can make innovative and beneficial use of data.

This already happens in a number of ways in Ireland – currently, public bodies exchange data to improve efficiency for service users, to allow for evidence-based policy making, and to prevent fraud and error. For example, in 2013 the Revenue Commissioners started data-sharing with Student Universal Support Ireland to simplify the student grant application process. This initiative enabled SUSI to receive income details directly from the Revenue Commissioners, and reduced the need for applicants to supply documents in support of applications.

While the advantages of data-sharing are clear, we must always meet the test of proportionality in the manner in which personal data is used. Proper governance and transparency provisions are required to protect the crucial relationship of trust between the individual and the state. The aim of new legislation is to allow for beneficial data-sharing across the public service, but in a way that complements and reinforces the important objectives of data protection, data integrity and personal privacy.

Today, the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform has commenced a public consultation process to discuss the practice of data-sharing between public service bodies. A policy paper outlining Government data-sharing is available at http://per.gov.ie/data-sharing.

This policy paper sets out key elements of proposed legislation on the sharing of personal data between public bodies. It is essential that policy development is informed by the views of citizens, businesses and public bodies. Therefore, between now and the 15th September 2014, we are seeking written responses to the issues raised in the policy paper, or on other relevant aspects of data-sharing – these can be sent by email to datasharing@per.gov.ie. We welcome ideas and proposals that will help us meet the challenge of transparent and secure data-sharing to underpin the next phase in the evolution of a digital public service.

Brendan Howlin TD, Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform.