Senator Higgins wins “significantly improvement” to the Data Sharing and Governance Bill in Seanad debate

Senator Higgins debates the Data-Sharing and Governance Bill
Senator Higgins debates the Data-Sharing and Governance Bill

Speaking after today’s debate in the Seanad Senator Higgins said, “The Data Sharing Bill will impact on how everyone’s personal data is shared between public bodies. It is essential that we get this piece of legislation right and I welcome the progress that the Minister and his Department have made since our robust debate at committee stage.”

The bill provides for the establishment of base registries to store and exchange personal data between public bodies. During the committee and report stages of the debate Senator Higgins, with the support of Senator Ruane, was the only Senator to submit amendments, tabling over 40 this week.

During the earlier stages of the debate Senator Higgins raised concerns that the proposed data-sharing and governance mechanisms did not provide for transparency and accountability. She called on the Minister to establish best practice systems and to prioritise the rights of individuals to privacy and data protection. In particular, she sought to safeguard the protections which had been introduced in the Data Protection Act to protect sensitive personal information, called "special categories of personal data".  

A number of issues raised by Senator Higgins were taken on by the Minister during today’s debate, including increased transparency on the data governance board which will be responsible for the oversight of potentially thousands of data-sharing agreements. The Minister has also agreed to remove special categories of personal data from most sections of the bill. Changes were accepted to the data access portal to ensure that people can access full information on how their data is being shared and used by public bodies. A minimum period for public consultations was also set for data-sharing agreements to allow for meaningful engagement with the public.

Speaking about her successful amendments Senator Higgins said, "Although some of these issues may seem technical, they are in fact deeply personal and important for many people".

The data-sharing and governance bill will now pass to the Dáil for further scrutiny. Senator Higgins said, “I hope to see colleagues in the Dáil pick up on the substantial body of work which has been done in the Seanad to strengthen this bill and that they will address issues around the public services card and biometric data and seek to protect the checks and balances around public interest which were won in the Data Protection Act in the Spring.” 

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