Data Protection

The Use of CCTV in Disciplinary Hearings in the Workplace-Interesting High Court Decision (February 2020)

The conflict of rights in the workplace between employer and employee concerning the use of cctv in the workplace, and its use in disciplinary processes, was dealt with by the High Court in February 2020. The case was Doolin v The Data Protection Commissioner [2020] IEHC 90 and it was an appeal from the Circuit Court where Doolin, the employee, had lost.

The purpose of CCTV gathering in this workplace was for “security purposes”. On that basis Doolin argued that the employer could not use that CCTV footage in a disciplinary process.

Generally, the use of CCTV in the workplace must be “necessary and proportionate”. This means it should only be used for the stated purposes, unless it has been made clear at the outset that the gathering of the cctv data may be used for these other purposes-for example investigating offences or prosecuting offenders or disciplinary procedures.

The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights has held that the use of covert surveillance in the workplace may be justified if reasonable suspicion of serious misconduct has occurred. You can read a blog post here about Lopez Ribalda and others v Spain.

The key takeaways from that case are

  1. The employee’s right to privacy in the workplace is not absolute
  2. The employer’s action must be viewed in the light of the specific facts of the case and whether the steps taken by the employer were in pursuit of a legitimate aim and were necessary and proportionate.

Doolin v The Data Protection Commissioner [2020] IEHC 90

Doolin had been disciplined in the workplace arising from the taking of unauthorised breaks in the workplace. These had become apparent when the employer had found threatening graffiti in Our Lady’s Hospice and Care Service in Harolds Cross and had been advised by an Gardai to monitor who had access to the room in question.

This was how the question of unauthorised breaks by Doolin arose.

Doolin complained to the Office of Data Protection Commission about the use of CCTV in the disciplinary process and the unlawful use of his personal data.

The Data Protection Commissioner held that the purpose of gathering the CCTV was advised in advance as “for the purpose of health and safety and crime prevention”. Because the original viewing of the CCTV was for a security purpose-that is, to try to find out who was posting the graffiti-the subsequent viewing of the data for the disciplinary process against Doolin was not for a different purpose.

Doolin appealed this decision to the Circuit Court who upheld the decision of the Data Protection Commissioner. Doolin then appealed to the High Court.

The High Court agreed with Doolin insofar as it held that if the employer had intended to use CCTV in disciplinary proceedings in the workplace it should have made this clear in its data protection policy. It changed its policy in later years to reflect this but this was not the case at the time Doolin was disciplined.

The High Court held that the Circuit Court and the Data Protection Commissioner were incorrect in finding that no further processing of the data had occurred in the disciplinary process.

Interestingly, it found that if the data protection policy had reflected, as it later did, that cctv could be used for “for the purpose of a disciplinary investigation” it would have been acceptable to discipline Doolin with the assistance of the cctv; but that was not the case when Doolin was subjected to the disciplinary.

The High Court held, inter alia,

I am therefore overturning the decision of the Circuit Court on the basis that there was no evidence for the conclusion that the disciplinary action, in which information derived from the CCTV footage was used, was carried out for security purposes.

The High Court also concluded,

The information used by the Panel to arrive at their conclusion that the Applicant had taken unauthorised breaks derived inter alia from both the CCTV footage and fob access records. Accordingly, it is indisputable that the information contained in the CCTV footage was used for the disciplinary proceedings, which use constituted a different purpose from the one for which the data was originally collected. The fact that it was not downloaded for use does not mean no further processing took place.


For the reasons set out in the Decision,

I: (a) allow the appeal against the decision of the Circuit Court on the basis that there was no evidence for the conclusion that the use of the CCTV footage or material derived from it in the disciplinary hearing was for security purposes;

 (b)  conclude that the DPC made an error of law in holding that no further processing took place as this conclusion was founded upon an incorrect interpretation of “processing” having regard to the terms of s.2(1)(c)(ii). 

64. Having regard to the above, I uphold the appeal and set aside the conclusions of the DPC in the Decision to the effect that no contravention of s.2(1)(c)(ii) occurred. 

65. I am conscious that s.26 simply provides for an appeal to the High Court on a point of law but does not prescribe what should happen in the event of a successful appeal. I therefore propose to hear the parties on the form of Order, including whether the matter should be remitted to the DPC. [Note: At a costs hearing on 25 February 2020, the parties indicated that no remittal should be made to the DPC and an Order was made in the terms of paragraph 63 above].

Read the full decision in Cormac Doolin and The Data Protection Commissioner and Our Lady’s Hospice and Care Services 2019/2011CA.

Data Protection

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in Ireland-the Essentials


Have you heard about the GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation)?

Do you know the changes it will bring to data protection law in Ireland?

Do you know when it is to come into effect here?

These questions, and similar foundational ones, are what I am about to look at.


Let’s go.

The “big bang” date for the this Regulation to come into effect in Ireland will be 25th May, 2018. As EU regulations have direct effect in Irish law, it will not require any act of transposition or formal introduction into Irish law.

The effect of the GDPR will be to replace the existing data protection framework in Ireland. If you are data controller, and you currently have obligations under data protection law, you will need to know what new obligations the GDPR will have for you and your organisation or business.

At its core it strengthens the rights of EU citizens to data privacy and central to this is the three principles of

  1. Security
  2. Accountability
  3. Transparency.

You will note that these are the principles inherent in the current data protection regime in Ireland, pursuant to the Data Protection Act 1988 and Data Protection (Amendment) Act, 2003. It will be a relief to discover that if you are in line with current legislation you will be broadly covered for the new regime.

However, there is some new elements being introduced by GDPR which you need to be aware of. The Office of the Data Protection Commissioner has suggested a 12 step approach to the new regime. Those 12 steps are:

1. Becoming aware

Key personnel need to be aware the law is changing in this area from 25th May, 2018.

2. Become accountable.

Gather up your existing personal data and review it under the following headings

  • Why are you holding it?
  • How did you obtain it?
  • Why was it gathered?
  • How long will you retain it?
  • How secure is it?
  • Do you share it with 3rd parties? If so, on what basis?

This will cover the accountability principle mentioned at number 2 above.

3. Communicate with staff and service users

This involves lettering your staff or service users know about the collection of their personal data.

Under GDPR new obligations include:

  • Providing information about the legal basis for processing the data
  • Retention periods
  • Complaint procedures
  • Their individual rights under GDPR
  • Whether the data will be subject to automated decision making.

4. Personal Privacy Rights

Generally, the rights afforded to individuals will be similar to what they currently enjoy eg to have inaccuracies corrected, to have data deleted, to object to direct marketing.

You will also need to consider how you will provide data electronically if requested by the data subject. You will need to consider,too, how long it will take to locate the data and who will make decisions about deletion of data.

5. How will access requests change

The GDPR will change the timescale for responding to data protection requests to one month so you need to review how you will deal with this faster timescale.

It will be less likely that you will be able to charge for such requests and the ground for refusal will need to be founded in well documented policies and procedures for refusal.

You will also need to provide additional information to data subjects such as information about the data retention periods and having inaccurate data amended.

6. The legal basis

You will have to explain your legal basis for processing personal data and data subjections will have stronger grounds for having their data deleted and the legal bases for processing data will be reduced significantly.

If customer consent is the only justification for processing data the data subject will be in a stronger position to request that it be deleted.

7. Customer consent as a ground to process data

Consent must be ‘freely given, specific, informed and unambiguous’ in relation to customer consent. The customer must not be duped or forced into giving the information. They must also know what exactly they are consenting to and requires a positive action of approval; it cannot be inferred be silence or a failure to take action eg tick a box to opt out.

Subjects also need to be told of their right to withdraw consent. You need to be able to show how consent was obtained, and have a record of it. Generally, where consent is relied upon, the data subject has stronger rights in relation to their personal data.

However, be careful about employee consent, as it it unlikely to be an acceptable legal basis for gathering data (see below).

8. Processing children’s data

If you must gather children’s data you need to be careful about being able to verify the age of the child and obtain the consent of the guardian.

Special protections in respect of children’s data will be introduced, especially in relation to social media use and commercial internet services.

9. Reporting data breaches

You must ensure you have sound procedures in place to detect, report and investigate any data protection breach. The GDPR will introduce mandatory data breach reporting obligations to the Data Protection Commissioner.

Failure to report a breach will result in a fine in addition to the fine for the breach and breaches will typically have to be reported within 72 hours.

10. Data protection impact assessments (DPIA)

This involves the systematic consideration of how a particular initiative will impact on the privacy of individuals. This assessment may involve discussions with groups and stakeholders.

If this assessment leads the organiser to believe that the risks to personal data cannot be mitigated fully it may be necessary to contact the Data Protection Commissioner before starting the process of gathering data.

If a project requires a DPIA you will need to consider

  • Who carries it out?
  • Who needs to be involved?
  • Will it be run locally or centrally?

The whole thrust of the DPIA is to identify potential problems with an initiative involving the gathering of personal data and look at ways to mitigate those issues.

11. Data protection officers

Some organisations will need to designantt a DPO (data protection officer) under the GDPR regime. Such organisations would include public bodies, large organisations, and so forth but you need to consider whether you need a data protection office in your organisation.

He/she will need to be conversant with GDPR and its obligations. You may appoint an external advisor to this role, if there is nobody suitable or qualified in your organisation.

12. GDPR and international organisations

For organisations which have operations in many EU states you will be entitled to deal with one data protection authority, a Lead Supervisory Authority (LSA) as your single regulating body in the country where you are mainly established.

This will generally be determined as the country where the main administration of the organisation is carried out.

How will GDPR affect your organisation?

We know that the GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) will come into effect in all EU member states including Ireland on 25th May, 2018.

In addition to this EU regulation having direct effect from May, 2018 Ireland will have its own additional data protection legislation, with a bill  being drafted and finalised in late 2017.

What differences will we see from the existing data protection regime in Ireland? Let’s take a look, shall we?

1. Severe financial penalties and compensation

Currently, if an individual is aggrieved about a breach of his/her data protection rights he can report this to the Data Protection Commissioner. However, it is up to the Data Protection Commissioner as to whether she takes any action by way of criminal prosecution in the District Court. For the individual concerned, there is no compensation for a breach unless he/she has suffered loss or damage.

I have written about this elsewhere: Data Protection Breaches-Are You Entitled to Damages?

Under the new regime the Data Protection Commissioner (DPC) will have the power to impose eye watering fines for breaches of data protection rules. These penalties can reach 4% of an organisation’s worldwide turnover or €20 million for breaches of the data protection law.

In the case of public bodies the DPC will have the power to impose these fines by way of administrative fines; in other cases she will have to prosecute through the District Court as criminal prosecutions.

Crucially the GDPR includes the right of an individual whose rights have been breached to be compensated for material or non material damage. This would include for stress arising from the breach which is a big change from the existing position that the individual must show material damage/actual loss suffered.

These new, stiff financial penalties are critical motivators for all organisations which keep data to analyse where there is any potential infirmities in their data protection obligations.

2. Greater transparency

Up to now there has been a general obligation on the data controller to obtain data/information fairly and to let the data subject know who is gathering the data, why they are gathering it, and who it might be provided to. The gathering of the data must be fair, and the data subject must not be surprised by any of the uses to which his/her personal data is being put.

The obligations in this area have increased significantly to comply with a fundamental principle of GDPR: the principle of lawfulness, fairness, and transparency.

The GDPR now obliges the data controller to address a list of questions about the gathering of the data-questions like the legal basis for processing the data, how long it will be retained, and detailed information for the data subject about their data protection rights.

GDPR also places an increased focus on the necessity of gathering the data for the purpose for which it is being gathered. If it is not necessary for the avowed purpose, it should not be gathered.

Organisations, therefore, need to be disciplined about the personal data which they gather.

The data controller will also become more accountable for the application of the data protection laws in the organisation and must be able to show compliance with the principles of the GDPR.

The obligation to be more transparent and comply with the principle of gathering only necessary data will almost certainly force organisations to take a closer look at their existing data protection policies, and ensure clear, effective communication with the data subjects. This communication would not be confined to simply distributing the policy document but also telling the subject at the data collection point why this particular data is being gathered and telling them what their rights are arising from GDPR (see “7” below).

3. Record keeping obligation

There is an increased onus on organisations in respect of record keeping, even though there is no requirement to register with the Data Protection Authority in Ireland.

However, this record keeping burden does not rest with organisations with less than 250 employees. These organisations need to ensure that they have implemented “appropriate data protection policies”(Article 24) which might include a general data protection policy, a website cookie and privacy statement policy, a policy for the use of CCTV, email, internet and social media policies, and so forth, depending on the organisation.

4. Consent-is it enough for a legal basis for processing?

The principle of consent is an important one in the GDPR and the conditions for consent.

Where processing is based on consent, the controller shall be able to demonstrate that the data subject has consented to processing of his or her personal data.

It is vital that the consent that is given is given freely and it can be freely withdrawn at any time and it should be as easy to do so as when giving it. The consent needs to be freely given, specific, informed and unambiguous.

The organisation must be able to prove that they obtained the consent and it is unlikely that the consent will be regarded as freely given if the parties are in an imbalanced relationship, for example employer/employee.

It is also worth noting that it is unlikely that the mere giving of consent gives an organisation a legal basis for data collection. A more reasonable legal basis for collection would be the performance of the employment contract or compliance with legal obligations (eg tax obligations or record keeping for employment law purposes) or the legitimate interest of the employer.

Also, the consent must not be bundled in with other terms and conditions of a contact between the parties, but must be separated in a separate consent declaration and the burden of proof of proving that a valid consent was obtained is on the employer.

In summary, the question of consent has been given much more important than the previous standard of “freely given” consent and consent cannot be relied upon where the relationship is imbalanced, as you have in an employer/employee situation.

Standard clauses in employment contracts will not be sufficient to allow extensive use of the employee’s data eg transfer overseas and consent should only be relied on when absolutely necessary.

What is an acceptable legal basis for gathering employees’ data? Likely to be acceptable are the following grounds:

  • it is necessary for a legitimate, lawful interest of the employer. This must be necessary and proportionate, however;
  • it is necessary to comply with the law-for example, deduction of tax, prsi, USC etc. from wages;
  • it is necessary to perform the contract-for example, to calculate wages due
  • necessary to protect the vital interests of a person
  • necessary to carry out a task in the public interest
  • consent (but consent on its own is not enough).

5. Data Protection Officer (DPO)

Under GDPR certain organisations are required to appoint an independent data protection officer. These include

  1. Public authorities
  2. Organisations who systematically and regularly monitor data subjects on a large scale
  3. Organisations who process sensitive personal data on  a large scale or data in relation to criminal offences.

The DPO must inform and advise the organisation of its obligations under GDPR, provide advice, act as a point of contact with the supervisory authority, and monitor the organisation’s compliance with the law and its own policies.

The GDPR does not require any particular professional qualification but should be a professional with expert knowledge of data protection law and practice.

The DPO can be an external consultant or an employee of the organisation. If an employee, however, his/her other duties must not give rise to a conflict of interest.The contact details of the DPO must be published and provided to the supervisory authority and he/she must be involved regularly in meetings of middle and senior management, and consulted in relation to any data protection issues or breaches.

The DPO must also be given sufficient resources to do fulfill the role and act independently.

It is estimated that nearly 30,000 DPOs will need to be appointed to private sector organisations in the EU before May, 2018.

6. Data breaches notification

Any data breach must be notified to the Data Protection Commissioner within 72 hours. However, if there is no risk to employees’ data rights there is no obligation to report it. If the breach is likely to pose a high risk to employees’ rights and freedoms then it must be notified.

The notification must set out the circumstances of the breach, who has been affected, the likely consequences, the contact person/DPO of the organisation,  and the measures taken to mitigate any adverse consequences.

7. Enhanced rights for data subject

GDPR gives even more rights to data subjects. These rights include

  • To have inaccurate data rectified
  • To have personal data erased without delay (the right to be forgotten)
  • To restrict the processing of their personal data
  • To object to its processing altogether (this should be on compelling legitimate grounds)
  • The right to data portability (the right to obtain and use their own data for their own purposes across different services)
  • The right not to be evaluated on the basis of automated processing of data

These rights are not absolute, however, and for personal data to be erased it must no longer be required for the purpose for which it was acquired.

These new rights will create new, more onerous obligations for organisations and employers.

8. Data protection impact assessments (DPIA)

Data protection impact assessments may have to be carried out by employers, and the purpose is to ensure recognition of a principle: a data protection by design approach. This means that all the policies of an organisation should keep in mind privacy considerations of the data subject.

The organisation should also consider how to minimise the processing of personal data, as much transparency as possible, and allow the data subject to monitor processing.

Data protection rights and privacy of individuals should be considered in relation to the design of new products and services, and all internal policies of the organisation.

A DPIA will be necessary when a new processing activity may result in a high degree of risk for data subjects. The DPIA should contain:

  • A description and purpose of the processing
  • An assessment of the necessity for the processing operation
  • An assessment of the risks to the rights of the data subjects
  • What steps will be taken to reduce the risks.

A DPIA would be necessary for example where an employer is going to commence monitoring employees’ use of the internet or where a hospital may start processing its patients’ health data.

9. Data portability

This is a new concept and allows the data subject to transmit his personal data to another data controller. This can be done by the data subject receiving the data and giving it to the new data controller or having the first one transfer it to the new one.

However, the right is not an absolute one and does not apply to all data provided by an employee to an employer; it applies to

  1. a) automated data
  2. b) which was actively and knowingly provided by the employee to employer and
  3. c) the personal data must have been processed by the employer with the employee’s consent.

The automated data requirement above means that the right does not apply to  paper records.

This would not apply to data which was held by the employer and processed based on the legal ground of legitimate interest or for a specific legal obligation connected with the employment relationship eg payment of statutory obligations such as tax/prsi.

The data controller cannot charge a fee for the provision of personal data and in a HR/employment law context the request for data should be considered on a case by case basis.

10. Data subject access requests

For employers the timeframe for responding to a data request has been shortened to one month. Employers, however, can extend this by two months if there is complexity involved in fulfilling the request.

If a request is “manifestly unfounded” or “excessive” the employer can refuse the request or charge a fee. However, “manifestly unfounded” and “excessive” in this context has not been defined so it remains to be seen how this is to be assessed.

11. Demonstrating compliance

The data controller will need to be able to demonstrate how they comply with  the data protection principles.

This would mean that employers, for example, would need to be able to show that consent was given and that there are compelling legitimate grounds for processing the data where the data subject objects.

12. Conclusion

The GDPR is a far reaching piece of secondary legislation emanating from Europe and should be of particular concern for employers who need to look very carefully at their existing data protection policies, how they gather data, whey they gather it, their procedures for responding to data protection requests in future, when they need to carry out a data protection impact assessment (DPIA), review their existing data privacy policies and notices, and whether they need to appoint a DPO (data protection officer).

Useful links:

Employment Law Procedures and Policies

Using CCTV and Data Protection-the Facts You Should Know


Is CCTV being operated in your workplace?

Are you an employer who is considering introducing CCTV?

The Data Protection Commissioner has issued updated guidelines in December, 2015 in respect of the use of CCTV.

Because recognisable images captured by CCTV systems are considered to be “personal data”, as defined by the Data Protection Acts in Ireland, and are subject to the provisions of Data Protection legislation.

Justification of CCTV System

This means that a data controller must be able to justify use of a CCTV system. Sometimes this is easy, for example, using CCTV to keep an eye on a building for security reasons.

However, the use of CCTV to watch employees, students, or customers can be harder to justify.

But that is the first question to be answered: is the use of a CCTV system justified?


The second question to be looked at, assuming the system is justified, is what will the system be used for?

Is the use of CCTV proportionate?

If it is used to capture images of attempted burglars or other undesirables, there is no problem with the test of proportionality.

However, if it is used to monitor employees, showing that it is proportional can be more problematic, although not impossible, for example for health and safety reasons.

But whatever the reason, use of CCTV needs to be justified in the particular circumstances. This justification would generally arise from issues which have arisen prior to the installation.

Where will the cameras be located? What sort of images will be captured? The use of CCTV cameras in toilets, and other locations where you could reasonably expect privacy, will be difficult.

However, even where they can be justified in toilets they should never be used to capture images from urinals or cubicles.

Carry Out an Assessment

The Data Protection Commissioner’s office recommends that detailed assessments be carried out prior to the installation of cctv cameras. It also recommends the following steps:

  • A Risk Assessment
  • A Privacy Impact Assessment
  • A Specific Data Protection policy drawn up for use of the devices in a limited and defined set of circumstances only (this policy should include documented data retention and disposal policy for the footage)
  • Documentary evidence of previous incidents giving rise to security/health and safety concerns
  • Clear signage indicating image recording in operation.

Warning to Data Subject

Before any data is recorded the data subject must be warned.

This warning can generally be achieved by placing signs in prominent positions.

If it is obvious that the purpose of the data collection is security it will suffice that the sign states that CCTV is in operation and a contact number should be provided.

If the purpose is not obvious then the data subjects should be warned beforehand. This would be especially true if CCTV was being used to monitor staff conduct or performance, as this would not be an obvious purpose.

Written CCTV Policy

A written CCTV policy should be in place and it should contain

  1. The identity of the data controller
  2. The purpose of the data processing
  3. Any 3rd parties to whom it is made available
  4. How to make an access request
  5. The retention period of the CCTV
  6. The security arrangements for the CCTV

Data should not be kept for longer than necessary.

Longer than 1 month in the case of CCTV would be hard to justify.

Access to the data should be restricted to authorised personnel, and it should be stored in a safe place.

Supplying Images to an Garda Siochána

Supplying, as opposed to permitting viewing of, CCTV images to an Garda Siochana should be by written request which states that a criminal investigation is being carried out.

If a verbal request is acceded to, where there is a degree of urgency, a formal written request should be obtained afterwards.

Rights to Access Data

When a data subject requests CCTV images he should supply a time frame of the recording. This would refer to specific days and/or hours but a general request for all CCTV data held would not be acceptable.

Where images of parties other than the requesting data subject appear on the CCTV footage the onus lies on the data controller to pixelate or otherwise redact or darken out the images of those other parties before supplying a copy of the footage or stills from the footage to the requestor.

Alternatively, the data controller may seek the consent of those other parties whose images appear in the footage to release an unedited copy containing their images to the requester.

It would be unacceptable for the data controller to claim that he cannot pixelate images or provide copies for technical reasons, or that he cannot provide images to be viewed on the requester’s device.

If the data controller chooses to use this technology he needs to be able to comply with the data protection consequences.

Hidden Cameras

Generally, the use of hidden/covert surveillance is forbidden, except on a case by case basis to prevent or detect offences or crimes. Any covert surveillance should be specific, limited, and for a short period.

Security Companies

Security companies acting on behalf of clients are considered to be “data processors”.

Their clients are the data controllers. Data processors have specific obligations placed on them by the data protection acts, for example to prevent unauthorised access to the data and ensuring security of the data.

Also certain data processors must have an entry in the public register maintained by the Data Protection Commissioner. (See section 16 Data Protection act, 1988)

The processing of personal data kept by an individual and concerned solely with the management of his/her personal, family or household affairs or kept by an individual for recreational purposes is exempt from the provisions of the Acts.

However, this would not allow recording of a public space, and neighbour has a constitutional and common law right to privacy. They could enforce this right by taking a civil court action.

What to Do Now

  1. Carry out an assessment,
  2. draw up a written CCTV policy,
  3. obtain professional advice if you are unsure or unclear about your rights or obligations.

The use of CCTV in disciplinary matters

A question I am often asked is about the use of CCTV footage in disciplinary proceedings.

This is a grey area but the general position is that the use of CCTV in disciplinary matters is inadmissible unless there are exceptional or special circumstances justifying the surveillance. The employee should be notified in advance of the presence of the cameras and that the images may be used in disciplinary proceedings.

Any use of CCTV must be proportionate and justifiably necessary.

Normally an employer can easily justify the use of CCTV for security reasons and to prevent loss of stock/theft, and so forth. However, attendance, misconduct, and disciplinary issues are less straightforward.

Transparency and proportionality

Employees do have personal privacy rights when they go to work and CCTV monitoring must be carried out with regard to the basic data protection principles of transparency and proportionality. Thus, the employer must alert the employee to the use of CCTV and the purpose of the monitoring and special circumstances would need to exist if the employer wants to monitor attendance or staff conduct.

In a 2014 case Karen Deegan v Dunnes Stores [2014] the employee was awarded €9,300 for her unfair dismissal as the employer relied on CCTV footage to find her guilty of misconduct in circumstances where the employee was unaware of the CCTV cameras.

However, the Circuit Court later overturned this decision when Dunnes Stores appealed the decision and the Judge found that there were substantial grounds which justified the employer’s decision.

Data Protection

The 8 Rules of Data Protection in Ireland


It’s an easy mistake to make, you know.

You might be a data controller.

Let me explain.

Everyone has strong rights when it comes to the data that is held on them thanks to the Data Protection Acts.

And it is up to the data protection commissioner to ultimately uphold those rights if they are breached by the employer.

All businesses and institutiions should be concerned about data protection and the Data Protection Acts 1988 and 2003. These 2 acts attempt to balance the rights of individuals in relation to personal data that is stored by various organisations about them.

People who control and use data about others are called ‘data controllers’ and are recognised in the acts above as having certain obligations imposed on them by law.

Individuals should know when they provide personal information to any organisation:

  • Who is gathering the data
  • What use this data will be put
  • Who the data will be disclosed to

If a data controller has the data for a specific purpose but in the future decides to use it for a new purpose he must ask the person whose information he has whether they are agreeable to that new use or not as the data shall only be held for specified purposes.

Personal data should not be excessive in relation to the purpose for which it is held and should not be kept for longer than is necessary for that purpose.

In fact there are 8 rules of data protection which will broadly ensure you are in compliance with Data Protection legislation in Ireland.

8 Rules of Data Protection

1. Obtain and process information fairly.

For example, the data subject should know that you are gathering personal data, any processing must be after obtaining consent from the data subject, and the processing must be necessary.

2. The data must be kept for a specified, lawful purpose.

3. The data should be used and disclosed only for the specified purpose.

4. The data must be kept safe and secure.

5. The data must be up to date, accurate and complete.

6. The data must be relevant, adequate but not excessive.

7. The date must be retained for no longer than is necessary.

8. A copy of the data must be made available to the data subject, on request.

Non-compliance with data protection law

Non-compliance with data protection law may lead to a complaint to the Data Protection Commissioner and the Data Controller can be held liable under normal common law principles (eg the law of contract, confidential information etc.)

It should be noted that Irish data protection legislation only applies to data controllers who are established here.

Rights of Data Subjects

These rights derive from the Data Protection acts and include…….

  • The right to be informed of data being kept on them
  • The right to access to the data (there are a number of exceptions to this right)
  • It is worth noting that the Data Protection Commissioner appears to be of the opinion that CCTV footage of a person is data within the meaning of the acts.
  • Right to prevent processing where it may cause damage or distress

The transfer of data outside the state is restricted to countries outside of the European Economic Area.

It may not occur unless that country provides an adequate level of protection and this causes problems re transfer of such data to USA as there are varying standards of protection in the USA.

Their Safe Harbour scheme is a voluntary scheme which provides similar standards of data protection to europe but not all companies sign up.

Are you an employer who is concerned about his data protection obligations?

Or an employee whose rights have been infringed?

You might also be interested in this article which covers updated guidelines in relation to cctv and data protection obligations and rights.

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Data Protection

Data Protection in Employment Law in Ireland-the Essentials


The Data Protection Acts 1988 and 2003  impose stringent requirements on the data kept by employers about employees and in particular in respect of sensitive personal data.

Employers are considered to be data controllers and processors within the legislation.

The Data Protection Commissioner can impose fines of up to €100,000 and employees can succeed in claims in relation to breaches of data protection law.

The principle obligations on the employer in respect of sensitive personal data is to collect and process it fairly, is accurate and up to date, and is kept no longer than necessary. For this reason employers should ensure that they have a data protection policy in the workplace.

Employee as Data Subject

The employee, as a data subject, has a general right to know what personal data is held about him/her, to whom it is disclosed, and to have it deleted or amended if incorrect. A written data request from an employee should be responded to within 40 days.

The Data Protection Acts, section 8 in particular, set out the circumstances where the employer may disclose the employee’s data to a third party. Whether the 3rd party is a member of the EEA (European Economic Area) or not will determine whether the request can be complied with or not by the employer. If the data is being disclosed to a 3rd party within the EEA then a written contract is required.

If not, the transfer of data is prohibited (subject to exceptional safeguards).

Registration with the Data Protection Commissioner

Data controllers fall into 3 categories for the purpose of registration

  1. Categories of persons who are always obliged to register-this includes Banks and financial institutions, insurance companies, internet service providers, phone companies
  2. Categories of persons who may be required to register –this includes data controllers who process personal data relating to mental and physical health
  3. Categories who are excluded- not for profit organisations, elected representatives, data processed for the normal course of personnel administration, solicitors and barristers, data for journalistic, literary or artistic material

Please note that these are not exhaustive lists and you may need to consult the legislation or a solicitor who has an expertise in this area if you are in doubt.

You might also want to read the 8 rules of data protection in Ireland.
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