After Cambridge Analytica scandal, senator concerned about data protection bill

Senator Alice-Mary Higgins who has led the debate in the Seanad on the Data Protection Bill 2018 which is supposed to give effect to the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR ), has said that despite crucial amendments, she remains very concerned about the Bill.

Having submitted over 30 amendments at committee stage, she won a number of important improvements on areas like child protection and the right to be forgotten but remains very concerned about the Bill. Today (Thursday ) she will propose further amendments, including amendments to close the loopholes in section 43 which many feel are open to exploitation by companies like Cambridge Analytica.

During the committee stage debate on March 6, Senator Higgins’ said “We have seen the role played by companies such as Cambridge Analytica in the Brexit vote and Trump campaign. There is a real and present danger of private companies being contracted to influence and shape electoral outcomes.”

In advance of today’s report stage debate, Senator Higgins said the scandalous harvesting and manipulation of Facebook data by Cambridge Analytica has shone a renewed spotlight on the importance of stringent data protection regulation to protect both individuals’ privacy and the integrity of the electoral processes.

“The Data Protection Commissioner has highlighted that we do not have adequate laws to prevent this. There is a danger that the Data Protection Bill could make things worse. Section 43 of the bill leaves open the possibility of third parties and commercial interests interfering in democracy through processing personal data for micro-targeting advertisements, when they do so on behalf of political parties or candidate.

“We need to get this right, especially given that the European headquarters for Facebook and many other social media platforms are located in Ireland.,” she said, adding that her amendments would directly address these loopholes by prohibiting the processing of ‘special categories’ of personal data for political or electoral purposes by a commercial company without explicit consent from the individual.

“Under Article 9 of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR ), ‘special categories of personal data’ include religious or political beliefs, biometric data, racial or ethnic origin or sexual orientation.”

Senator Higgins also argues that the Government is missing other opportunities to meet the best GDPR standards in the Data Protection Bill by “giving themselves too free a hand on exemptions and giving public bodies a free pass by excluding them from fines for violations.

“I will be proposing amendments to limit Ministerial discretion and introduce fines for public bodies who breach an individual’s data rights. Issues of data protection touch so many of our lives and it is vital we get this legislation right,” she concluded.

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