Irish Government proposes confidentiality measure for data protection procedures

The Irish government has proposed an amendment that would allow the Data Protection Commission (DPC) to designate all its procedures as confidential. Critics argue this hampers transparency and public discourse.

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The Irish government has proposed a new amendment to the ‘Courts and Civil Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2022’, seeking to empower the Irish Data Protection Commission (DPC) with the ability to designate all its procedures as confidential. This amendment, put forth by James Browne, Minister of State at the Department of Justice, is particularly significant considering the presence of major tech companies with their European headquarters in Ireland, which positions the DPC as the primary authority for cross-border data protection cases.

At present, the amendment is undergoing evaluation, and its potential impact on other regulatory bodies involved in the process remains uncertain. If approved, the amendment would provide the privacy watchdog with discretionary authority to prohibit the disclosure of information pertaining to complaints, investigations, and inquiries. Such information would be classified as confidential, aiming to safeguard the integrity of ongoing investigations.

The Irish Department of Justice argued that the amendment aims to strengthen the integrity of investigations conducted by the DPC and emphasised that the confidentiality provision would solely apply during the DPC’s ongoing procedures. Once an investigation is concluded, all relevant details would be made public.

However, critics, including civil liberties advocates, strongly oppose the amendments, with Amnesty International describing it as a ‘draconian law’ and a deliberate effort to undermine transparency. Additionally, there are also concerns voiced by NOYB that the change could potentially criminalise criticism of the Irish DPC and big tech companies.

The European Data Protection Board (EDPB) has announced that it will collaborate with the DPC to evaluate the consequences of this amendment.

The bill must receive approval from the lower house of the Irish Parliament before the amendment can be officially enacted on 28 June 2023.