On International Data Protection Day 2021, Senator Higgins calls for new Data Awareness and Digital Empowerment Fund

On International Data Protection Day 2021, Independent Senator Alice-Mary Higgins has called for establishment of a new Data Awareness and Digital Empowerment Fund, to include money ringfenced from GDPR fines.

Senator Higgins said:  “The strengthening in Data Protection we have seen in recent years is as much about transparency and control as it is about privacy. Laws such as GDPR give individuals greater access to their own personal data and a say in how it is used.  At its best this goes beyond protection to empowerment.

“Unfortunately, most people are not fully aware of their rights in this area, and almost half our population struggle with digital literacy. According to the EU Digital Economy and Society Index 2020, 44.6% of people in Ireland lack even ‘basic digital skills’. The last year, in particular, has really highlighted the need for active supports to address that vulnerability and help people participate with confidence online.”

“I am asking the Government to introduce a new Data Awareness and Digital Empowerment Fund specifically designed to support projects that inform and empower individuals around online participation and their digital rights. There are many great initiatives already underway, from Silver Surfer groups to community hubs or CoderDojo clubs, but many are operating on a shoestring.

The Senator urged Government to increase resourcing for the Data Protection Commission.

“Ireland’s role within the EU as a headquarters for so many tech giants places a key responsibility on to regulate. Inadequate resources for our Data Protection Commission can limit capacity and, when we fall behind on investigation and enforcement, that rightly draws international criticism. We need to show that we take this seriously,”

Separately, the Senator called for 25% of GDPR fines to be ringfenced for empowerment.

“The Data Protection Commission, as an independent body, has many legal tools at its disposal, and the issuing of fines is just one very small aspect of its powers as the greater aim is, of course, to prevent data breaches. Nonetheless fines for breaches are sometimes issued and, as these cannot go to the issuing body, they are paid into the exchequer”.

“I believe 25 % of any money arising from GDPR fines should be ringfenced as a contribution towards the proposed Data Awareness and Digital Empowerment Fund.  These amounts will be irregular and should of course be seen as supplements to more regular annual funding but they could support further scaling up on initiatives which support online empowerment and equip people in Ireland to know and protect their rights.”

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