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Data Protection Commissioner: Transfer of Mother and Baby Homes records to Dept could be 'high risk'

Around 100,000 records are expected to be moved to the Department of Children next week.

Image: Sam Boal/RollingNews.ie

Updated Feb 25th 2021, 3:59 PM

THE DATA PROTECTION Commissioner has warned that the Department of Children’s lack of expertise about the Mother and Baby Homes Commission’s archive could be a “high risk” when records are transferred to the government department once the commission is wound down.

Helen Dixon told RTÉ Radio 1′s Today with Claire Byrne that the transfer of the archive represents a challenge to survivors, including those who want their testimonies redacted.

Around 100,000 records, including audio recordings of survivors’ testimonies, will be given to the department after the commission winds down, which is expected to happen this week.

Pressure has mounted in recent weeks for the term of the commission, which delivered its final report last month to be extended, with those in favour saying this would allow survivors to obtain clarity about questions they have.

Speaking today, Dixon said the Data Protection Commission had concerns about the transfer of records because the Commission of Investigation knew most about its own archives.

“Clearly it knows its way around these; it created the archives [and] it worked on this commission for five years,” she said.

“There’s really a need for the department now to quickly mitigate what are high risks in taking over an archive of this nature.”

The Data Protection Commissioner highlighted that it was particularly important for the department to understand why the Mother and Baby Homes Commission deleted audio recordings of survivors’ testimonies, given recent controversy about the issue.

In a later interview with TheJournal.ie today, Dixon said 17 people, including two today, have contacted her office about the Commission into Mother and Baby Homes.

Dixon said, “as a minimum”, witnesses “shouldn’t have been left confused about what their rights around copies of their personal data were, confusion shouldn’t have been part of the mix”.

She said “issues arise” if the recordings were deleted without consent and if individuals “didn’t get to see a copy of what had been extracted and summarised”.

Last week, Minister for Children Roderic O’Gorman told the Oireachtas Children’s Committee that he had been informed by the commission that such recordings could not be retrieved.

However, it subsequently emerged that the recordings could be retrieved.

Dixon told RTÉ there are “big question marks” surrounding the commission’s decision to delete the recordings, and that transparency appeared to have been lacking to witnesses who gave testimony.

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She also highlighted issues around the rights of third parties, such as those accused in witnesses’ testimony, that would have to be factored into data protection rights.

The commissioner said it was unclear what would happen with audio recordings after the Commission of Investigation is wound down, because is was the role of the Commission to redact certain sections of them.

“The department and the commission need to be able to cater for both [those who want redactions and those who do not] and ensure that rights are respected across the board.

“It’s not just about access rights; it’s about rights of others and rights to those who want anonymity and deletion as well.”

Speaking in the Dáil this afternoon, Green Party leader Eamon Ryan referenced Dixon’s interview, saying that she would “continue to work with whoever the designated data authorities are” for Commission database.

With reporting by Órla Ryan and Orla Dwyer

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