Today is European Data Protection Day – What can you do to safeguard your privacy?

Today, Monday 28th, is European Data Protection Day. Last year we marked this with a post giving some practical ways in which you could protect your privacy.

This year, the single most important thing you could do is to help stop data retention in Ireland. What exactly is data retention? TJ wrote this explanation of the issues for the Irish Examiner:

How would you feel if someone followed you every day, writing down your movements, making a note of everyone you talked to, jotting down the address of every letter you post, and then storing that information for three years? What would you think if that system of surveillance was extended to every single person in the country? While this might sound like the stuff of science fiction, since 2002 the Government has required telephone companies to track the movements of all their users, to log details of every telephone call made and every text message sent and to store that information for three years. The Department of Justice now proposes to extend this further, to require ISPs to monitor everyone’s internet use, including details of every email or instant message we send, and every time we log on or off, and to store that information for up to two years. What’s more, it intends to do this by the stroke of a ministerial pen, with no debate before the Dáil or the Seanad.

The rather dull name for this surveillance is “data retention”. But it might be more informative to talk of “digital footprints”. As technology comes to be more and more part of our everyday lives, we leave a trail of digital footprints recording almost everything we do. Activities which once would have been private (posting a letter) may now leave a record (sending an email). Data retention laws – by storing these digital footprints – mean that the rights to privacy and freedom of expression we take for granted in the offline world might be lost in the digital age.

Since the Department of Justice admitted these plans there has been a surge of interest. The primary question has been what can individuals do to stop this.

The most potent assistance anyone can give is to write a letter to the Ministers responsible, as well as to their local TDs.

If they’re in government, ask them why Ireland is introducing data retention so urgently. And don’t accept “Because European law requires it” as an answer. There is an EU Directive requiring data retention. But it is being challenged by multiple court cases. One is being taken by the Irish State itself at the European Court of Justice. One is being taken by DRI in the High Court. And one is being taken by 30,000 signatories objecting to the German Government’s implementation of the Directive. There is no reason why our Government should implement the Directive before these court cases have been heard – especially given that the Government itself agrees that the Directive is invalid.

Ask them why the Oireachtas is being sidelined. A law such as this should be subject to democratic scrutiny.

Member states of the EU had the right to seek an 18 month derogation from having to transpose this law. Ask the Ministers and your public representatives why Ireland did not avail of this breathing period.

In addition, you might ask the Minister for Communications to put a figure on how much the additional costs of collecting, storaging and accessing of this data will add to the price of broadband for the average consumer.

Brian Lenihan TD is the Minister for Justice. It is the Department of Justice who have responsibility for the introduction of data retention in Ireland. His email is:

Eamon Ryan TD is the Minister for Communications. The Minister for Communications is responsible for the regulation of Internet Service Providers who will need to implement Government policy in this area. His email is:

Your local TD (if they use email) will usually have the address: You can find full contact details for your local TD here.