With such large scale invasions of peoples privacy, we need to know about the culture in Irish public institutions

by Niamh Kirk

The number is staggering, 62,000 requests for information on private individuals phone and internet use by the Irish authorities over five years, largely the Gardai but the Defense Forces and the Revenue Commissioners too. The hacking scandal in the UK, which, toppled one of the UK longest running daily national’s and exposed gross system failures in the paper’s, and others, inner-workings as well as provoking one of the largest public Inquiries in British history was about 4,700.

by Ann Wuyts
Five Data Privacy Principles from Mozilla (Put on a museum wall) 2014

Last night on Vincent Brown they revealed the Irish Times front page carrying the report after discussing the GSOC tapping journalists phones, they mentioned the Leveson Inquiry.  The second part of the Leveson Inquiry focused on problems that occur when journalists and police get too cosy. But part one focused on privacy invasions, and found that there was a toxic culture in parts of the UK press that had no respect for individual privacy, and in which unethical ideologies and lazy practices that both tolerated and encouraged privacy invasions.

During the Leveson Inquiry it became clear that in newsrooms unethical practices were festering and infecting the workforce, and showing up in the content of the publication. But critically that the main drivers of this culture and the practices that exist in it came from the top down. “There is not an individual you can point to, it’s a culture, it goes all the way up the chain, people put their hand in at all levels” Richard Pepiatte Leveson testimony.

On and off record journalists testified that they believed the on entering a newsroom a journalist is committed to good journalistic practices; but that the atmosphere and attitudes in the newsroom bread practices (and non-practices), that diminished reverence to individuals privacy. They found ways to justify it resulting in a pervasive ideology in which practise of privacy invasion were routine.

And this toxic ideology that disregards peoples privacy and permits regular privacy invasions it seems is part of the Irish Government’s and institutions culture. “Culture is built on values and the systems and behaviours that preserve and perpetuate it. Cultures are defined by what they reward and celebrate. (Geisler; 2004) And I would add, tolerate.

The Code of Conduct for the Irish press is a good example of the cultural attitude to privacy in Ireland.  Principle 5.1 reminds us that it “is a human right, protected as a personal right in the Irish Constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights, which is incorporated into Irish law. The private and family life, home and correspondence of everyone must be respected.”.

The question is, how much respect do the Irish authorities have for our privacy? 62,000 is a number large enough to do more than cause us reason to pause, it is large and worrying enough to call for an investigation into the culture and practices of the Irish Government and public institutions.

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