Roll Up, Roll Up – see the amazing psychic dog! (minor update)

Roll up Roll Up, meet the new DPC!
Roll up Roll Up, meet the new DPC! (says Irish Times)

Every so often I read things in the newspaper that make me go “Yay!”. More frequently I read things that make me go “Boo!”. Today, as with other days, I read something that made me go “WHAT THE F….?!?!”.

Over the past few weeks the Irish Times has done a bang up job breaking some excellent stories about Data Protection issues in Ireland. Karlin Lillington, Elaine Edwards, and others have sought to “Tell the Story of Why” and push past the usual soundbites and bullshit gloss that usually passes for data-related journalism in Ireland.

One great example of this was the work done on a story about how the Dept of Arts Heritage and the Gaeltacht had erred in exposing data on living people (whose data privacy rights are protected under the Data Protection Acts and the Treaty for the Formation of the European Union, as well as the Irish Constitution – and if you want a potted guide to all of that Gerard Hogan gives a great summary here) on the website. This was despite having had consultation with the Office of the Data Protection Commissioner and having had guidance on what was and was not acceptable from a Data Protection perspective.

The various pieces written by Elaine Edwards were detailed, explained the core of the issues well, and generally added to the quality of discourse.

On the 23rd of July, in their Online edition, the Irish Times ran this piece of utter nonsense dressed up as journalism. It’s such a poorly researched and written piece that I can understand why the author felt it best to leave their name off the byline [update- unfair to author, it was a leader piece, but if so my comments below are even more relevant – /update].

It is true that the DPC raised issue regarding a property price register. The issue was that the sharing of data between different entities that would be required to create such a register, while of interest to the public, lacked a legislative basis and therefore risked breaching the Data Protection Acts. Legislation was passed two years ago that provided the “air cover” for the sharing of data to build a property register and lo and behold there is a property price register in place now, linked to the LPT process.

Comparisons between Irish law and UK law are often as valid as comparing an apple and orange, and complaining about the bitterness of the orange skin as you try to bite into it, on the basis that they are both fruit.

But the doozy in this article for me is the challenge to the DPC as to why they didn’t spot that the Dept of Arts Heritage and the Gaeltacht were in breach of the Data Protection Acts for a year. The anonymous author of this article asserts that the DPC’s job is to ensure compliance with the Data Protection Acts.

Actually no. That is not their job. To make the Regulator responsible for ensuring compliance breaches a number of concepts in Governance, such as segregation of duties.

Their job is to enforce the Act, to provide advice on how to not be non-compliant (which they did in this case), and investigate and prosecute offences under the legislation (albeit with a role in relation to education and awareness building as well).

The responsibility for ensuring compliance rests with the Data Controller doing the processing, in this case the Dept of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, who were non-compliant because they did the very thing they were told not to do by the DPC. Responsibility for ensuring compliance rests with the IT project team who developed interfaces that shared too much data, the testers who didn’t spot it, and the Data Controller in the Dept who didn’t double check that the business rules were followed.

The DPC’s job is to hold the Data Controller ACCOUNTABLE.

The bizarre logic of the writer of the article simply makes no sense. Are the Gardai responsible for ensuring compliance with the Road Traffic Acts? No. Their job is the detection of, investigation of, and prosecution of offences. Just like the DPC in this context – when the Office was made aware of a possible breach of the Acts, they investigated and took action immediately.  (Ensuring compliance with the Road Traffic Acts is the responsibility of the road user).

For all the sense that is in the article, the anonymous scribe [update-anonymous as it is a leader piece-/update] might as well have advocated that the soon to depart Mr Hawkes be replaced with a Psychic Dog who would detect all the potential future crimes, just like Tom Cruise in Minority Report.

Lazy, sloppy, and brain numbingly dumb hackery dressed up as journalism, an article of this low quality has no place in a paper of merit such as the Irish Times.

Good, informed, and informative journalism on Data protection issues must be encouraged however.