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An Post can't say how it got a woman's data to send out a TV licence

An Post says that it cannot tell members of the public how it obtains names and addresses as it is “not in the public interest”.

Image: Shutterstock/Deyan Georgiev

AN POST SAYS it cannot say where it obtains data for TV licences, but insists that all information is obtained legally.

The utility was responding after a woman was sent a TV licence in her married name, despite most of her other bills being in her maiden name.

Marie* told TheJournal.ie that her case was “even more confusing” because she had set up her Electric Ireland – with whom she had used her new, married name – account in the wrong address.

“This year I moved into an apartment in Dublin and I took out an Electric Ireland account using my married name, which I very rarely use,” she explained.

“I accidentally registered the account with Apartment 1 of our complex, instead of my own apartment – number 2.

Two weeks later, a letter is delivered to Apartment 1 with my married name on it stating a TV licence is needed for the apartment.
This was really suspicious to me. I have no other accounts with my married name anywhere. Even with Revenue, I still go by my maiden name.

Electric Ireland, however, says it does not share customers’ data with An Post – or any other organisation.

A statement said it did not share Marie’s data:

“Electric Ireland has a strict policy of keeping all personal data confidential. Electric Ireland does not disclose personal data to any third party unless required to do so by law or by court order. All disclosures of data required by law are done so in compliance with the Data Protection Acts.”

Marie, on accepting this statement from the electricity company but wishing to know more about her data protection, investigated further.

She filed a Freedom of Information request with An Post but was told that revealing to her how it obtained her name and address was “not in the public interest”.

I just want to know how they got my information. If they told me that, then I wouldn’t be so angry about it,” she says today.

Marie says that the apartment she lives in has a valid TV licence, but it is not in her name.

What are the rules?

While Electric Ireland says that it didn’t share Marie’s data, the Data Protection Commissioner says that the public sector can reasonably share data. However, there must be a legal basis and prior notice.

“An individual may expect public sector bodies to share their personal data where it is essential and necessary to provide him/her with the services sought and the ODPC fully support the aim of developing more efficient and customer centric public services in this regard.

However, this must also be balanced with the fact that individuals need to be informed as to how their personal information is used and for what purpose, who has access to it and how the sharing of that information will impact upon them.

According to An Post’s data policy, it only obtains information “fairly” but does not go into specifics as to how that is done.

A spokesperson for An Post says that the company cannot say what those measures are because it would make collecting TV licence money more difficult.

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“An Post is tasked with collecting money owed/payable to the State and detecting and prosecuting offences in connection with TV licencing. For this purpose we gather information from several sources, at all times complying with our legal obligations.

We do not disclose those sources as to do so would make our task more difficult and this would not be in the public interest.

Under the 2009 Broadcasting Act, An Post is listed as the issuing agent for TV licences. The Act says that An Post can maintain information as defined by the Communications Minister.

“An issuing agent shall maintain and furnish such data and information, and in such format (including electronic formats), as the Minister may require in relation to the exercise of powers conferred on the issuing agent under this part.”

Simon McGarr, a solicitor who specialises in data protection, told TheJournal.ie that it is crucial that bodies who obtain data be able to say what legislation allows them to do so.

“Following the Bara judgement in 2015, the ECJ says that even where there is a legal basis for data sharing, it is necessary that people know that sharing will take place before it happens.

“It’s critical for both good administration and public trust that public bodies relying on legislation to share data should be able to cite that basis to any citizen who requests it. ”

In Ireland, about 88% of people pay their TV licences. The evasion costs the state around €40 million a year.

*We are just using Marie’s first name to maintain her anonymity. 

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