Newspaper Licensing Ireland–a return

The last post was a little long and analytical. Having reread the great post on I thought I’d reframe my Data Protection take on this in terms that might be more familiar.

Personal Data is being processed via your website without an appropriate Privacy Statement and without any communication of the purposes for that processing. Furthermore, the failure to have such a privacy statement on your site which references the use of Google Analytics is a breach of Section 8 of the terms and conditions that apply to Google Analytics. Failure to obtain consent for the use of the cookies written by Google for the purposes of Google Analytics is a breach of SI336.

You are breaking the law; you risk exposing your company to investigation and prosecution, with financial penalties and brand damage ensuing. Processing personal data without it being obtained fairly for a lawful purpose, and writing 3rd party cookies without consent is illegal and breaches a fundamental Human Right in the European Union.

What do you think?

I may be over egging it a little. I need a cup of tea now and a good sit down.

Newspaper Licensing Ireland– some thoughts

This post is about the website of Newspaper Licensing Ireland, who have recently written to a non-profit organisation whose aims I wholeheartedly support, seeking license fees for linking to newspaper content published on the internet by the newspaper publishers. McGarr Solicitors, who are acting for Women’s Aid, have published a detailed analysis of the situation and the questions raised on their website, which I link to in the confidence that the McGarrs won’t come looking for a pound of flesh in return.Sticky buns perhaps, but nothing worse.

I will ignore the fact that this action seems to be in ignorance of the way the Internet works, particularly with regard to search engine optimisation and page ranking where relevance and significance of content, and hence it’s positioning in Google searches and the value of the real-estate for on-line advertising purposes. I’ll ignore how the use of links simply tells people to “look over here – I found this interesting, so you might to”. I’ll ignore the fact that links are effectively the footnotes on the Interweb that tell people where your source was for a thing. 

(But if you do want to actually understand this aspect, the Wikipedia entry on Search Engine Optimisation has a reference to the Google PageRank algorithm and how it works (at a high level). And Dr. Cathal Gurrin in Dublin City University did his Doctoral thesis on the topic.And I’m sure someone somewhere has done an economic analysis of link density [the number of inbound links to a site] but I can’t be bothered to look for it tonight.)

What I will talk about here is the fact that, when I went to the NewsPaper Licensing Ireland site (which I won’t link to… just in case) to see what the potential cost to an SME with 0-10 employees would be. I still don’t know the answer.

I’d expected a form that would take certain inputs and churn them around to spit out a ball park figure. I’d expected to see something that would relate the license cost to, for example, the average hits or distinct site visits on the SME company site per month (to make the cost meaningful as those stats are the foot fall of the Web).

What I didn’t expect was to be asked for a contact name and the name of the company on that form. Company name I’m not to concerned about. But the contact name…

…that’s personal data. Therefore under s2 of the Data Protection Acts it must be obtained for specified and lawful purpose and must be fairly obtained. So I went looking for a Privacy Statement (there was none). So I turned on my cookie checkers to see what was being written by the site to my device wot is connected to a public communications network (and therefore would be a cookie within the meaning of SI336 and as such would require consent unless necessary for the service I’m trying to avail of).

My tools revealed that NLI are using Google Analytics on their site. In a manner which is in breach of the Terms and Conditions of use for Google Analytics which state very clearly in Section 8:


8.1 You will not associate (or permit any third party to associate) any data gathered from Your Website(s) (or such third parties’ website(s)) with any personally identifying information from any source as part of Your use (or such third parties’ use) of the Service. You will comply with all applicable data protection and privacy laws relating to Your use of the Service and the collection of information from visitors to Your websites. You will have in place in a prominent position on your Website (and will comply with) an appropriate privacy policy. You will also use reasonable endeavours to bring to the attention of website users a statement which in all material respects is as follows:

“This website uses Google Analytics, a web analytics service provided by Google, Inc. (“Google”).  Google Analytics uses “cookies”, which are text files placed on your computer, to help the website analyze how users use the site. The information generated by the cookie about your use of the website (including your IP address) will be transmitted to and stored by Google on servers in the United States . Google will use this information for the purpose of evaluating your use of the website, compiling reports on website activity for website operators and providing other services relating to website activity and internet usage.  Google may also transfer this information to third parties where required to do so by law, or where such third parties process the information on Google’s behalf. Google will not associate your IP address with any other data held by Google.  You may refuse the use of cookies by selecting the appropriate settings on your browser, however please note that if you do this you may not be able to use the full functionality of this website.  By using this website, you consent to the processing of data about you by Google in the manner and for the purposes set out above.”

The emphasis in bold is mine. What Google requires is for people using GA to put in place a Privacy Statement but that that Privacy statement needs to clearly detail the use of Google Analytics, the fact of data transfer to the US, the purposes to which the data will be used etc.

NLI have no such Privacy statement, and no such text, so no mechanism to confirm my consent to the cookies that are being written by Google Analytics.

So, the site is operating in breach of SI336 and Google’s terms and conditions, and is effectively breaching contractual conditions governing the use of Google’s services and the fundamental right to Personal Data Privacy as enshrined in Article 16 of the Lisbon Treaty.

All of which I’d never have considered looking at at all if they weren’t sending threatening letters to a charity that exists to help and protect women experiencing domestic violence.

New rules, Old roots, Old attitudes

So, today the European Commission is announcing new rules for Data Protection and Privacy in the EU (and the EEA countries and those countries seeking accession to the EU). There is hype and hoopla about the rules and what they mean, particularly for organisations conducting business on-line, companies based outside the EU selling into the EU, standardisation of penalties, and realignment and consolidation of the Regulatory and Enforcement regime.

Oh yeah, and it is being done by Regulation which means the rules will be the same across the EU.

But at its heart the fundamental principles remain the same. Organisations who seek to process personal data of individuals need to make sure that the ‘deal’ is fair. After all, to paraphrase Commissioner Reding’s comments at the DLD conference in Munich earlier this week

Personal information is the currency of the Information Age

And as with all markets where items of value are traded, checks and balances need to be in place to ensure the asset is valued appropriately and treated with care. Hence the focus in the new Regulation on concepts such as Privacy by Design, ensuring appropriate training of staff, specific requirements re: organisational governance and internal controls and clarity of documentation about the meaning, purpose, and methods of use of personal data. There is an economic trade off required to obtain the thing that is of value. That trade off is good management of Personal Data through the life cycle of the Information Asset.

As a Data Governance and Information Quality guy I’m glad to see that the legislators in my third area of passion have finally caught up with the need to ensure organisations have defined Quality Systems with defined decision rights and accountabilities over Information as an Asset.

So, while many of the rules are new, their roots are old. Based on my reading of the version of the Regulation that was leaked just before Christmas revealed a Regulation with one foot in the camp of Fundamental Human Rights (and the trade offs that need to be made there for economic activity to take place) and the other firmly in the camp of Quality Management practices and principles, with a clear focus on creating a Constancy of Purpose in management towards the goal of striking a sensible balance and ensuring a fair deal in the processing of personal data.

And that is where the problem begins.

There is a window now for national governments and the European Parliament to make contributions to the Regulation. Many in national government and the EP will make sensible contributions that will evolve the framework and make it easier to implement in practice.

However, in a month where one Government Minister acted in blissful ignorance of the Data Protection Acts one week, another flew a policy kite that would require an illegal extension in scope of the database being built by the first Minister, and where the unelected officials of the largest City Council in the country appear to be unable to point to the legitimate grounds on which they transferred the personal data of over 100,000 residents to a private company, I hold out little hope of sensible debate and dialogue from the Irish body politic.

In a month where we greeted the year (for the second year in a row) with a story about poor planning of projects involving personal data (both under the stewardship of the same person) I hold out little hope of sensible engagement from the Irish body politic.

And in a month where the reversal of a bad law to control copyright on the Internet (SOPA) after leading websites across the world “went dark” we find a Junior Minister of the Government, in the Department that is in charge of attracting and retaining exactly those companies who opposed the US law, seeking to implement a similar law by Statutory Instrument with no debate or discussion, even after the legal position and EU policy position has changed in relation to Internet blocking, and only the opinions of the dying industry this law would protect seem have been sought in advance, I hold out little hope for the Irish Body Politic not to make an arse of this.

And as for the Irish media… with a few notable exceptions the absence of attention to Data Protection issues (except where it involves embarrassing a Government Minister and the copy can be lifted from this blog) is staggering. So yet again I hold out little hope of sensible engagement.

Adapting to the new Data Protection landscape will require individuals to change their mind set. But I fear that the entrenched attitudes in the body Politic and the traditional media may be such that Ireland (the little nation that faced trade sanctions in 2003 for not implementing Directive 95/46/EC by 1998 as we were required to) will fail to step up to the plate and drive the change in thinking and attitude necessary to achieve sustainable and sustained change in Data Protection practices in Ireland.

W. Edwards Deming wrote in his famous 14 Points for Transformation that it was essential for the transition that organisations “Institute Leadership”. I see precious little leadership in this area from our politicians and only dazzling pin-pricks of illumination from the main stream media. So I must keep my hope guarded in the face of the likely knee jerk reactions against the changes and the almost inevitable white noise of ignorance until the Regulation passes into law with a direct effect sometime in 2014.

Prove me wrong. Please.

Lies, damned lies, and statistics

On Monday the 16th January 2012 the Irish Examiner ran a story that purported to have found that 93% of the Irish public “decried” the decision of the Minister for Foreign Affairs to close Ireland’s embassy in the Vatican City State. The article detailed how they had undertaken a review of correspondence released under the Freedom Of Information Act which showed that 93% of people in Ireland were against the closure. To cap it off, the article was picked up in the Editorial as well.

Except that that isn’t what they had uncovered. The setting out of the statistics they had found in the sensationalised way they presented them was a gross distortion of the facts. A distortion that would, to paraphrase Winston Churchill, “be half way around the world before the truth had its boots on”).

Demotivational poster about data

What they had uncovered is that of the 102 people who wrote in to the Minister for Foreign Affairs about the issue, 93% of them expressed a negative opinion about the closure. The population of Ireland is approximately 4.5 million people. 95 people is closer to 0.000021%. While I may not have the academic qualifications in Mathematical physics that my famous comedian namesake has but I know that 95 people (that’s 93% of 102) is slightly less than 93% of the Irish public

Or, to put it another way, significantly and substantially below the statistical margin for error usually applied in political opinion research by professional research companies.

Or to put it another way, over 99% of the population cared so little about the closure of the Vatican Embassy that they couldn’t be bothered expressing an opinion to the Minister.

Of course, the fact is that there were letters written about this issue. And the people who wrote them were expressing their opinion. And 93% of them were against the closure.  In fact, in defending themselves on Twitter against an onslaught of people who spotted the primary school maths level of error in the misuse of statistics in the article, the Irish Examiner twitter account repeatedly states that (and I’m paraphrasing the actual tweets here slightly) “for clarification we did point out that the analysis was based on the letters and emails”. But it is inaccurate and incorrect to conflate the 93% of negative comment in those letters to the entire population as the sample size is not statistically valid or representative being

  1. Too small (for a statistically valid sample of the Irish public you would need between 384 and 666 people selected RANDOMLY, not from a biased population. That’s why RED C and others use sample sizes of around 1000 people at least for phone surveys etc
  2. Inherently biased. 93% of cranky people were very cranky is not a headline. The population set is skewed towards one end of the distribution curve of opinion you would likely find in the wider population.

Then today we see a story in the Examiner about how Lucinda Creighton, a Junior Minister in the Dept of Foreign Affairs is backing a campaign to reopen the embassy because

there’s a very strong, and important and sizeable amount of people who are disappointed with the decision and want to see it overturned and who clearly aren’t happy

What? Like 93% of the Public Lucinda? Where is your data to show the size, strength, and importance of this group? Have you done a study? What was the sample size?

As a benchmark reference for what is needed for an Opinion Poll to validly represent the opinions of the Irish Public, here’s what a reputable polling company says on their website:

For all national population opinion polls RED C interview a random sample of 1,000+ adults aged 18+ by telephone. This sample size is the recognised sample required by polling organisations for ensuring accuracy on political voting intention surveys. The accuracy level is estimated to be approximately plus or minus 3 per cent on any given result at 95% confidence levels.

Anything less than that is not statistically valid data and can’t be held out as representing the opinion of the entire public.

As an Information Quality Certified Professional and an active member of the Information Quality Profession on an International level for nearly a decade I am ethically bound to cry “BULLSHIT!!” on inaccuracies and errors in  information and in how it is presented. The comments from Ms Creighton are a good example of what that is important in the Information Quality and wider Information Management profession. If bullshit analysis or analysis based on flawed or inherently poor quality data is relied upon to make strategic decisions then we invariably wind up with bullshit decisions and flawed actions.

And that effects everything from conversation with family, chats in the pub, business investment decisions, political decision making, through to social policy. Data, Information, and Statistics are COOL and are powerful. They should be treated with respect. People publishing them should take time to understand them so that their readers won’t be mislead. And care should be taken in compiling them so that bias does not skew the results.

So, having had no joy or actual engagement from the Irish Examiner on the issue I forwarded my complaint to the Press Ombudsman yesterday pointing out that the article would seem, based on the disconnect between the headline, the leading paragraph, and the general thrust of it, to be in breach of the Code of Practice of Press Council of Ireland.

I just hope they can tell the difference between lies, damned lies, and fudged statistics. (This Yes Minister clip about Opinion Polls shows how even validly sampled ones can be biased by question format and structure in the survey design).

Household Charge Data Protection: Part 4 – The Circle of Trust

Phil Hogan has stated on RTE news that the problems with the Privacy Statement have been fixed.

They haven’t (and for record purposes I’ve taken a PDF copy of the current Privacy Statement to track future evolutions). The problem with not complying with Google’s Terms and Conditions has been fixed. The problems with:

  • Lack of clarity re: the Data Controller has not been addressed. While it is tempting to say that the Controller is Government, in practice there needs to be a single entity who is driving and directing the gathering and collation of the data. Who is the ‘controlling mind’? While this may be set out in legislation somewhere it is a requirement of the Data Protection Acts that it be brought into the light and made clear to people who they are providing their data to. Suggested wording might be:

The Data Controller for the Household Charge is the Department of the Environment. The Department makes use of a number of Data Processors to help administer the charge, provide IT facilities and services to support this website, and to securely process payments made. These Data Processors include: The Local Government Management Agency (LGMA), the various Local Authorities, and Realex Payments.

Under the legislation, the Department has delegated to Local Authorities the responsibility for the day-to-day administration and operation of the Household Charge such as issuing Certificates of Discharge etc and in that context Local Authorities will have access to your personal data for those administrative and customer service purposes.

The LGMA is a shared services organisation providing administrative and back-office support to Local Authorities. In that context they will have access to and will process your personal data in order to provide support for website issues, to assist the Department and Local Authorities in the administration of the Household Charge through the analysis of data, production of reports, and provision of on-line customer support for this website.

That took me all of 30 seconds to draft. It should be at the beginning of the Privacy Statement.

  • Lack of clarity around the purposes to which the data will be put. While the Privacy Statement as it stands is fairly specific (stating payment processing, issuing reminders of future liability, issuing receipts etc.) the media statements about potential future uses of the data and the data which is actually being obtained (see Elaine Edward’s article in the Irish Times today [scroll to bottom] which points out that the process asks for the type of water supply you have and type of property etc ) suggest either that there are other future purposes that have not been disclosed, or data is being captured which is not relevant or is excessive to the stated purposes.

The primary purpose for which we are processing your information is to enable you to pay the Household Charge and to enable us to administer the Household Charge, as required under the relevant legislation, through the issuing of receipts, waiver notices, certificates of discharge, and the issuing of reminders for payment and notifications of liability in the future.

We are also capturing data about you and your property in order to establish a higher quality database of Residential Properties in the State for the purposes of supporting the efficient, fair, and cost-effective roll out of future property or service related charges and to provide a key information resource to the Department and Local Authorities about the nature and make-up of the residential properties in the State to support the planning and delivery of services and facilities in the future in a more cost-effective manner.

  • Lack of clarity regarding the periods for which data will be retained still persists. While the purposes of the retention are required in the legislation, the retention of data indefinitely is not allowed under the Data Protection Acts. How long does data need to be retained to issue a Certificate of Discharge? Is the personal data being retained as a standing database of property owners? (again.. that would be a purpose that would have to be stated).

In order to support the administration of the Household Charge and to permit the discharge of obligations under the legislation by Local Authorities and/or the Department, your personal data will be retained for the period of time you are the owner of a Residential property in the State. This will enable us to locate your records and issue receipts, Certificates of Discharge, reminder notifications, settlement of arrears on sale of property etc without having to require you to re-register for the Household Charge every year.

Data relating to persons who cease to be the owners of Residential properties in the State who have no outstanding liability will be retained for two years from the date of sale to allow for the re-issuing of Certificates of Discharge etc. in that period.

Data relating to persons who cease to be owners of Residential properties with arrears will be retained for six years to allow us to pursue outstanding amounts and for two years from the date of final discharge or settlement of any outstanding arrears.

Again, this is just a brain dump of what might be in a more ‘fit-for-purpose’ Privacy Statement, but it highlights the need to have thought through the key purposes for which data will be used so you can figure out how long you need to hold it for. So long as there is a lawful purpose for the retention and that is flagged to the Data Subject the ‘deal’ between Controller and Subject is fair and balanced.

  • Disclosure to third parties. The Privacy Statement is silent on this. The media, and the Data Protection Commissioner, have rightly focussed on the proposals to suck data from Utility companies, but the disclosure of data is as important. The Privacy Statement needs to be clear about who data might be disclosed to by the Controller and the basis for that disclosure.

Data provided as part of the Household Charge registration process may be disclosed to the Department of Social Protection or the Revenue Commissioners in order to support the administration of the Social Welfare system and the fair collection of other tax revenues. Such disclosures will be on the basis of specific requests arising from an investigation or as a result of legislative requirements currently in existence of which emerge in the future. All such disclosures of data will be undertaken in compliance with the Data Protection Acts and the minimum data necessary to achieve the purpose of the request will be disclosed. Where we believe there to be evidence of criminal activity or fraud data may be disclosed to the investigating authorities to support the detection and prosecution of any offences.

Again, this is just a brain dump. But it again illustrates that by stopping and thinking BEFORE you rush to obtain data you can improve transparency and identify the controls and governance you would likely need to have in place before you start.

  • The Data Protection Acts suggest that a Fair Processing Notice/Privacy Statement include any other information that the Data Controller considers will make the processing more fair. The obtaining data from 3rd parties should, in my view, be bumped into the Privacy Statement as well in this context  to make it CLEAR to people that this is a potential power and the basis on which it would be used. At the risk of pre-empting the protocols that the Department and the Data Protection Commissioner are agreeing, one possible wording for such a section might be

In order to investigate cases of non-payment of the Household Charge the Department or a Local Authority may, on a case by case basis, make a request to a Utility Company or other provider of services as specified by the Minister in the legislation for information about services provided to an address. This information will be sought for the purposes of identifying if the property is inhabited. Information which may be sought in this context would include the name of the account holder with the Utility company/service provider.

I was disheartened yesterday to hear the Minister constantly fall back on the mantra that the information provided on the site would be secure. That is not the point I’ve been making, and that is not where the Data Protection Commissioner’s concerns lie.

Security of Information (no offence to my friends in the InfoSec world) is just one of 8 Principles that needs to be complied with under the Acts, the Directive, and under our Lisbon Treaty obligations (Personal Data Privacy is a fundamental right of EU citizens).

The other 7 require Data Controllers to stop and think about what they are doing, what information they need to do that, how long they will need to keep that information for, who might need to look at that information, and a whole host of other factors over and above whether the site uses SSL and whether the data is encrypted on the server and other technical and practical security concerns.

It is even more disheartening when I see evidence of good work to try and ensure good security was designed in being undermined by a lack of focus on ensuring the other aspects required to balance the right to Privacy against the legitimate interests of the State were equally planned for and designed in.

This approach of “Privacy by Design” is what builds and sustains a Circle of Trust between the Data Controller and the individual.

In the case of the Household Charge that circle has been broken and will be difficult to restore.

If I was Taoiseach Kenny I’d be commenting on Minister Hogan’s Report Card: “Must try harder”.


The Household Charge Data Protection Kerfuffle (Part 2)

I don’t normally blog twice in day but I also don’t like to write 40000 word blog posts.

So here is part 2 of the post I wrote earlier (with thanks to @brianhonan for pointing out some stuff on the twitterbox).

Data Retention

The Privacy Statement for states that

The Local Government (Household Charge) Act 2011 provides for the issuing of receipts and certificates of discharge, waiver and exemption on request. To enable a local authority meet these statutory requirements your data will be securely retained in the system.

Great. That tells me the statutory basis for some of this processing. But it doesn’t tell me how long the data is actually going to be retained for. As VAT isn’t payable/chargeable on a tax the retention period that applies under the VAT acts wouldn’t apply, and in the context of Income tax Revenue require me to hold data, not the other way around (but they do hold data, and hold it quite securely).

I would assume a receipt would issue as a matter of course (at which point, no need to retain data) , as would certificates of discharge (I assume). I’m not sure about the waivers and exemptions… I would have assumed that that was a seperate process where by you would register your grounds for waiver or exemption and be excluded. (Unless of course data has been disclosed to the LGMA by another department, e.g. DSP, either in bulk or on record by record basis that would allow them to perform look ups to verify eligibility for waivers or exemptions).

So, I’m hard pushed to find a reason for retention longer than 12 months (and I’m basing that on the need to have the data to send a reminder in 11 months time). But the waivers and exemptions bit might give a reason for asking for the PPSN.. but not from everyone, just from those applying for a waiver or an exemption -anything else is still excessive processing for the purposes stated.

Rolling up the Tinfoil Hat

One element of comfort I find in the opacity of the Privacy Statement is that for all the elements it is missing that would add transparency, those that it has place some constraints on current and future uses.

In my last post I pointed out at the only two purposes that they state that data is being processed for are processing payments and sending reminders. When we look at the Retention Period bit we find a few more (issuing receipts, Waivers and Exemptions).

Which means there are a discrete set of stated specific purposes for which this data can be used. And no more.

Therefore, to roll up the tin foil hat a little, fears that the Government might be building a property register on the sly can be allayed by the fact that any such use would not be lawful as it has not been spelled out as a purpose for the data you are providing.

Household Charge–A Data Protection kerfuffle in the making?

It’s time for my annual “roll a data protection hand grenade under something” blog post. Every year I try to be topical. And I try to apply a similar approach to spotting risks and getting them on the table for discussion as I do when conducting Privacy Impact Assessments or Compliance reviews. Only I’m less formal here.

This year my interest has been piqued by the new Household Charge which the government has introduced. Citizens are required to register for this tax at a specific website which is ostensibly (from the logo header) under the control of the Department of Environment Community and Local Government.

But a number of things about this whole process wrankle with me from a Data Protection point of view. Let me be clear – I am not opposed per se to a property tax. I think however it should be fair and should reflect not just the value of property but the ability of the individual to pay. After all, in Ireland we have a generation of people living in properties that are worth a lot less than they were when purchased with people struggling to pay mortgages – increased charges are yet another burden that should be levied carefully.

The website


Looking at the website the first step is to check for compliance with SI336 (ePrivacy Directive) which requires that cookies can only be used with consent unless the cookies are necessary for the delivery of the information age service that the individual is seeking to avail of. Using the “View Cookies” add on in Firefox it is possible to see a listing of the cookies that a website is writing to your device.

On the home page a set of cookies starting with “_utm” are being written. These are tracking cookies written by Google Analytics, the popular analytics tool used by millions of websites the world over.

No mention is made in the Privacy Statement that accompanies the website about their use of Google Analytics [Update: The privacy statement was updated this afternoon to include the text referenced below… well done to who ever acted on that to fix it]. This is a breach of the Terms of Use of Google Analytics, which clearly states:


8.1 You will not associate (or permit any third party to associate) any data gathered from Your Website(s) (or such third parties’ website(s)) with any personally identifying information from any source as part of Your use (or such third parties’ use) of the Service. You will comply with all applicable data protection and privacy laws relating to Your use of the Service and the collection of information from visitors to Your websites. You will have in place in a prominent position on your Website (and will comply with) an appropriate privacy policy. You will also use reasonable endeavours to bring to the attention of website users a statement which in all material respects is as follows:

“This website uses Google Analytics, a web analytics service provided by Google, Inc. (“Google”).  Google Analytics uses “cookies”, which are text files placed on your computer, to help the website analyze how users use the site. The information generated by the cookie about your use of the website (including your IP address) will be transmitted to and stored by Google on servers in the United States . Google will use this information for the purpose of evaluating your use of the website, compiling reports on website activity for website operators and providing other services relating to website activity and internet usage.  Google may also transfer this information to third parties where required to do so by law, or where such third parties process the information on Google’s behalf. Google will not associate your IP address with any other data held by Google.  You may refuse the use of cookies by selecting the appropriate settings on your browser, however please note that if you do this you may not be able to use the full functionality of this website.  By using this website, you consent to the processing of data about you by Google in the manner and for the purposes set out above.”

The emphasis in bold is mine. What Google requires is for people using GA to put in place a Privacy Statement but that that Privacy statement needs to clearly detail the use of Google Analytics, the fact of data transfer to the US, the purposes to which the data will be used etc.

The Privacy Statement on does not do this.

Because the Privacy Statement on doesn’t do this I would argue that, even on the first visit to the site, before you type anything, the site is operating in breach of SI336 as there is no means by which a user would be able to find information about the cookies that are being written and provide consent other than by blocking cookies entirely using their browser.

This is despite the admittedly very clever use of URL redirection as an alternative path for people to navigate the site if they have turned cookies off in their browsers. But the wording around this in the Privacy statement ignores that the site actually writes third party persistent cookies from Google, and Google requires them to tell you that (as well as SI336).

Privacy Statement – Fit for Use?

Another concern I would have is with the loose wording and phrasing in the Privacy statement. The Data Protection Commissioner’s Audit report on Facebook cautioned strongly against the use of open-ended consents and non-specific specific purposes. Yet here we see clear examples of this within this Privacy Statement.

Well, actually we don’t. There is no statement about the purposes for which the data is actually being processed. And that’s just the beginning of it.

IP or Not to IP, that is the question.

The Privacy statement proclaims that for “general web browsing” they may capture the “logical address” of the server you connect to the site from. Unless I am horridly mistaken that is the IP address. And that would be the IP address assigned to your broadband connection. Which is Personal Data, as eircom have recently found out. And there is no ‘may’ about it. The data is captured by Google Analytics (see above) and any other stats tools the Department might have.

So. Personal data is being processed even if you are just browsing. Privacy statement is misleading in this regard and should be clarified.

Who’s the Daddy.. I mean Data Controller?

Frankly this thing is a mess. There is a horrendous lack of clarity about who is governing the processing of the data. Is it the Department (as it appears from the top right hand corner of the website)? Is it the LGMA (the collective IT department for most Local Authorities)? Is it the Local Authorities (as was set out in the legislation)?

Or to put it another way… who would the Data Protection Commissioner expect to get a call from if there was a security breach relating to this data?

If the Department is defining the format and structure and purpose of the data, they are the Data Controller as per the Article 29 Working Group Opinion1/2010.

Local Authorities collecting revenues on behalf of the Department would be Data Processors. The LGMA, as an entity acting to provide support services to Local Authorities would be a Data Processor (albeit further down the chain of processors).

What contractual or similar arrangements are in place governing this processing? Is there a clear governance structure established to ensure that breaches or problems are identified and dealt with in a timely manner?

What I’d have expected to see would be something along these lines:

This Household Charge is being administered by the Department of the Environment (the Data Controller). It is being collected on behalf of the Department by Local Authorities (Data Processors). As part of the support functions they provide to Local Authorities the Local Government Management Agency is providing hosting and technical support services for this collection facility, also as a Data Processor. REALEX payments are providing a secure payment processing facility that is certified to ISO27001 and meets the PCI-DSS security standards for credit card security.

Funds will be dispersed from the Department to each Local Authority as part of their budgetary allocations during the year.

It’s a bit clearer who is doing what. But the question is whether that actually matches what the enabling legislation for this charge actually said.

Don’t tell me the what, show me the why?

The Privacy Statement tells me that

Data collected on this site is gathered for the purpose of processing household charge payment transactions. This data may be reused in future years for notifications regarding liability for household charge properties.

So the purposes for which the data is being processed are:

  1. Processing a payment for the charge this year.
  2. Sending a bill to me for the charge next year.

No other purpose (statistical, strategic, or operational) is put forward for the processing of the information which is requested by the site.

What information is required to send me a bill?

  • My name
  • My postal address
  • My email address (should be optional if I don’t want to rely on electronic billing)

Which begs the question: Why is my PPSN number being requested given the particularly protected status of the PPSN in Irish law, a position I know from a  client engagement last year that the DPC takes VERY seriously indeed.

Quite apart from the limited scope that exists under Irish law to actually ask for and process a PPSN (which affects the “lawful purpose” of processing, the simple question under the Data Protection rules is whether, given that it is not necessary to have my PPSN to process a payment and send me a bill next year, why is this information being asked for.

If there is a secondary purpose (such as the development of a Property register which can be used as the basis of a valuation system in subsequent years) this should be stated as a specific secondary purpose in the Privacy statement.

If Facebook is not permitted to be sneaky with Scope Creep in their Privacy Statements, the Government should be be either.

I’ll post more on this as I get time to poke around a bit more.

‘Tis the Season to make Data

Ok. Time for a little festivities here on the blog while I oversee (yet another) attempt to migrate the company website to a faster server for 2012.

When I was Director of Publicity of the IAIDQ one of the challenges at this time of the year was preparing the end of year email blast to members and our supporters. The challenge came in the fact that we were dealing with a variety of countries and cultures as an International organisation, and as an organisation that has Community and mutual respect as core values we didn’t want to piss anyone off by expressing Festive cheer in an overly Anglo-saxon Christian-orientated manner.

After all, even Atheists eat turkey, visit friends and watch classic movies at this time of year.

This year, having spent a few sessions helping a client prepare a number of staff for the IQCP certification next year I sat pondering yesterday the MDM challenges posed by the concept of an end of year ritual event that is celebrated across multiple cultures and in many different ways and on varying date ranges within a reasonably defined window of time.

What is the valid range of domain values that label the thing what is being celebrated at the end of December/early January?

So, for a bit of festive fun I’m going to run a competition. Commenters to this post should leave a list (make sure to check it twice) of the domain value labels that they would consider as describing the festivities. Terms like “Holidays” and “Festive Season” are not allowed as they are labels for the domain itself, we’re looking for the values within that domain.

I welcome contributions from different languages, cultures, creeds etc., and if there is a specific date for the celebration in question please add it.

In early 2012 (after the turkey has been devoured and the batteries in my daughter’s toys have finally expired) I’ll pick a winner. The prize will be awarded for a combination of completeness and amusement-value (which is why Jim Harris will have to submit under a pseudonym), and the final winner will be picked randomly from a short list.

The prize will be a copy of The Age of the Platform by my good friend Mr Phil Simon.

Ho Ho Ho.

Turd Polishing

In the course of a twitter conversation with Jim Harris I used the phrase “turd polishing” to describe what happens when organisations try to implement check-box based data governance or Compliance programmes, or invest in business intelligence or analytics strategies without

  • fixing the data which under pins those strategies
  • addressing the organisational cultural and structural issues which have lead to the problem in the first place.
I have witnessed this happening with organisations who, for example, decide that investing in e-learning with a “learning kpi” (x% of staff having reached y% pass mark on an multiple choice exam with a 1 in 4 chance of guessing the right answer) is their approach to evidencing culture change and the embedding of learning.
Of course, this fails miserably when
  • The cultural message is that data job isn’t as important as the Day Job
  • The management practice is to game the system (why take all your staff off the phones to do the learning when you have one person on the team who knows it who can do the exams for everyone with their logins?)
  • Management look only at the easy numbers (the easily gathered test scores at the end of an assessment period).
  • If management seek to rule by fear or quota (“hit these numbers and those numbers or else….”)
If management seek to overlay a veneer of good governance on an unaligned/misaligned  and otherwise outright broken Quality Culture that doesn’t seek to value or maximise the value of their Information are engaging in little more than Turd Polishing. Turd Polishing can be seen in organisations that value Scrap and Rework over re-engineering as a way to address their quality goals. Turd Polishing can be seen in organisations that fudge reports to Regulators or announce “reviews” of issues that everyone has already identified the root causes of around the water coolers and coffee jugs.
No amount of elbow grease and turd polish will change the underlying essence of what is being done. Nothing will improve, but increasing amounts of polish will be required to dress up the turd as a sustainable change programme.
The alternative is to call a turd a turd but work with it to bring out the special properties of manure that can help promote growth and give rise to sweet smelling flowers. That requires spade work and patience to bring about the change of state from turd to engine of growth. But no polishing is required.
In summary – turd polishing gives you a shiny turd that is still a turd. Digging into the manure can lead to you coming up roses.

Information Quality Change – the Doctor Who effect

I’m a big science fiction fan. I make no apologies about this fact. One of my favourite science fiction characters is The Doctor, the lead character in the

The 9th Doctor outside his Tardis

The 9th Doctor

BBC’s iconic series of the same name. In a genre that often falls for the easy charms of technology to drive a story, The Doctor (a 930 year old, two-hearted time travelling Time Lord from the Planet Gallifrey) invariably highlights and thrives on the Human Factor – the innate potential, ingenuity and power of the human beings (a lesser species) who he befriends, protects, and travels with.

Over the years I’ve tried to adopt and adapt some of the principles of The Doctor’s approach to leading Information Quality and Governance change projects:

There is nothing that can’t be solved by confectionery

The good Doctor in a number of his incarnations (4th, 6th, 7th, and 8th as memory serves)  was renowned for, in moments of high tension, proffering some confectioneries (specifically Jelly Babies) to help lighten the mood and distract thought. They were an incredible tool that enabled him to befriend others and buy time to develop cunning plans. Doctor Who Jelly Babies (video montage)

The key lesson is that it is often useful to have a “quirky” way to break down barriers and get conversations going. The Doctor has Jelly Babies. I’ve used various props. Kathy Hunter of DQM Group made extensive use of home baked cakes and biscuits when she was in a previous role to help open conversations.

It’s Bigger on the Inside

The Doctor’s space ship/time machine is a Blue Box. It is a Blue Box because the advanced circuitry that let it change appearance to blend in in different timelines got stuck on “Blue Box” on a trip to London around 1963 (the year the series was first broadcast). The thing about the Blue Box is that it is “bigger on the inside”, a fact that The various companions’s to The Doctor remark on whenever they enter the Blue Box for the first time. Bigger on the Inside (Youtube) . Invariably, The Doctor takes the surprise in his stride, often forgetting how big a shot it is to people when they see the size of his Blue Box for the first time.

The Doctor’s Blue Box is called the TARDIS, which stands for Time and Relative Dimensions in Space. By being able to engineer time and space The Doctor’s race, the Time Lords could build infintely large space craft that could fit into a small space (like the back of a props van on a TV show).

What’s the parallel with Information Quality? Well, those of us who have worked in Information Quality often forget that it is a discipline that is very much “bigger on the inside”. When people look at Information Quality from the outside, they might be forgiven for thinking that it has the general dimensions of a Blue Box (so to speak) and it is only when they venture inside that they realise there’s more to it than meets the eye. If your perception of IQM is that it is Data Profiling and some Cleansing, it can be quite a shock when you uncover the Change Management challenges, the human psychology issues, and the legal and regulatory issues that can affect Information Quality strategies.

Often we hard-core practitioners take it for granted that its is bigger on the inside, because we’re on the inside looking out.

People First, Technology Second

Quite apart from the long running love affair The Doctor has had with the Human Race, every adventure winds up with The Doctor being outrageously brilliant as a Time Lord, but more importantly inspiring and encouraging brilliance in his Companions and others around him. Whether it is calling in favours from old enemies (in return for some jelly babies perhaps) or rallying demoralised troops in the face of battle or unnatural enemies, The Doctor puts people first, often appearing willing to sacrifice himself to protect others.

Technology is applied in innovative and outlandish ways to meet the objective of protecting people. Even The Doctor’s trusted sonic screwdriver is not used as a tool in its own right but as a means of enabling things to happen and for information to be gathered to support decision making.

From an information quality management point of view it is important that we remember this lesson – the technology should not dictate the solution and, ultimately, it is people who are the brilliant and innovative sources of solutions to problems. A Data Profiler will tell you that the data looks broken. A human being will figure out the best solution (new business rule, new tools etc).

In short, to paraphrase The Doctor: “People are FANTASTIC!!”


I’m very much of the view that we can learn a lot from arts and literature about ourselves and who we can aim to be in how we approach things. Science fiction TV programmes are no different to the works of Shakespeare in this regard. Perhaps we can achieve more sustainable successes in our Information Quality travels by learning some lessons from The Doctor:

  1. Everybody likes Jelly babies – (what is your equivalent?)
  2. Not everyone can see that this is actually Bigger on the Inside… and when they step into the world of Information Quality it can be a bit of a shock to the system.
  3. Technology doesn’t fix things. People fix things, occasionally using technology to get there. Remember that people are FANTASTIC!!