Data com­mis­sioner needs more than cash

The Irish Times - Business - - BUSINESS NEWS -

The jury may be out on whether the Data Pro­tec­tion Com­mis­sion is do­ing a good job or not, but there are few who would ar­gue with the de­ci­sion to award it ad­di­tional fund­ing from the ex­che­quer.

With so many tech com­pa­nies hav­ing es­tab­lished their Euro­pean head­quar­ters in Dublin, the or­gan­i­sa­tion has be­come the lead reg­u­la­tor in Europe, in­ves­ti­gat­ing nu­mer­ous data pro­tec­tion cases de­spite hav­ing limited re­sources.

This month alone the body led by Data Pro­tec­tion Com­mis­sioner He­len Dixon (above) has had to be­gin an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into a mas­sive cy­ber at­tack that al­lowed hack­ers to ac­cess up to 50 mil­lion Face­book ac­counts, in­clud­ing as many as five mil­lion in the EU.

It may also yet be asked to look into the de­ci­sion by Google to shut down its Google+ plat­form af­ter con­firm­ing it had found se­cu­rity breaches that may have ex­posed the data of 500,000 users.

Bud­get 2019 has seen an ad­di­tional €3.5 mil­lion be­ing al­lo­cated to the Data Pro­tec­tion Com­mis­sion in a move that sees to­tal fund­ing for the reg­u­la­tor ris­ing to €15.2 mil­lion next year, a 30 per cent in­crease on its fund­ing for 2018.

Three years ago the com­mis­sion’s an­nual bud­get was just €3.65 mil­lion. It has seen a sig­nif­i­cant ex­pan­sion of its work­load and re­spon­si­bil­i­ties un­der EU law since that time and this has only in­creased fur­ther since the Gen­eral Data Pro­tec­tion Reg­u­la­tion (GDPR) be­came law in May.

While it is pos­i­tive news to see fund­ing in­creased, there is a se­ri­ous ques­tion as to whether it is any­where near enough. The of­fice spent al­most €900,000 on le­gal costs in 2016 alone as it fought to bring tech gi­ants with deep pock­ets to heel. Given a dou­bling of the num­ber of com­plaints and al­most three times the num­ber of breach no­ti­fi­ca­tions to the of­fice since the in­tro­duc­tion of GDPR, one imag­ines the com­mis­sioner will be spend­ing ever more time fight­ing the good fight in the courts.

Then there are the staffing is­sues. About 40 new staff are to be re­cruited to the com­mis­sion next year, bring­ing the to­tal num­ber of em­ploy­ees to about 180. Where are th­ese ad­di­tional staff to come from?

If the com­mis­sion hopes to lure ex­perts to the pub­lic sec­tor, it will likely have to find a way to cir­cum­vent the un­wieldy re­cruit­ment pro­ce­dures and bands that ex­ist. Th­ese look some­what un­invit­ing when com­pared with the pay con­di­tions of­fered by tech com­pa­nies.

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