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Data Protection Commission

Minister for Justice and Irish Prison Service appeal data watchdog finding about officers' thumbprints

The case against the DPC was launched in the High Court on Tuesday.

THE MINISTER FOR JUSTICE and the Irish Prison Service are to appeal to the High Court a finding by the Data Protection Commission (DPC) about the use of officers’ thumbprints.

In a 17-page ruling last month, the DPC found that the prison service illegally compelled officers to provide their thumbprints to operate security gates at Castlerea Prison, Co Roscommon.

Data Protection Commissioner Helen Dixon found that the prison service had not established a legal basis for the processing of officers’ biometric data.

The ruling followed a complaint by an officer at Castlerea to the prison’s management and the Prison Officers Association last year that providing biometric data was against the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

The officer was told that the system was agreed by prison management and unions, and that he would face disciplinary action if he did not agree to supply his data.

He then made a protected disclosure to the DPC, which launched an investigation into the prison service’s use of biometric data.

Papers filed in the High Court on Tuesday show that the Minister for Justice and the Irish Prison Service have sought to overturn the DPC’s ruling.

The Minister and the prison service are represented by the Chief Prosecution Solicitor of the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions. The case is listed for mention on 7 December.

As part of the DPC investigation, the Irish Prison Service claimed the use of biometric data was legal because the security system was covered under a Law Enforcement Directive.

The directive would allow the prison service to process personal data for the purposes of preventing or prosecuting crime, but the Irish Prison Service’s argument was rejected by the DPC in its findings last month.

The Irish Prison Service directed queries about the case by to the Department of Justice and Equality. The Department issued a response based on a reply by Minister Helen McEntee to a Parliamentary Question about the matter yesterday. 

“Following an examination of the findings and further to the advices of the Office of the Attorney General, a decision has now been taken to bring an appeal on certain aspects of those findings to the High Court,” the minister said.

“In light of this it would not be appropriate to comment any further at this time.

“Other findings of the Commission and specific directions to Irish Prison Service are not being appealed however, and I am further informed that the Irish Prison Service is taking steps to comply with the directions of the DPC in that regard.”

The minister added that it was her understanding that the DPC’s ruling were “preliminary findings” rather than a decision, and said biometric data was processed by the Irish Prison Service in other circumstances.

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