Watchdog slams house tax bill snooping
A PROPOSAL to use information held by the ESB to pursue payments of the new household charge has come under fire from the Data Protection Commissioner.
Billy Hawkes (pictured) described it as a "disturbing development".
The commissioner said while there was a certain expectation of some data sharing between Government agencies, this was "extending the tentacles of the State into the commercial area".
"We have had urgent contact with the Department of the Environment and have agreed with them that if there is to be any access to ESB data, it will be on the basis of a strict protocol, governing the minimum amount of information that is to be sought from the ESB and the security provisions governing it," Mr Hawkes said.
He said that the issue had been very much on his office's radar because it had arisen previously when the legislation providing for a €200 tax on second homes had been published.
Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan said his department will work with the Data Protection Commissioner to address "valid concerns" he had raised.
He said that he would like to reassure users of www.householdcharge.ie that the information they provide is fully secure.
As of yesterday afternoon, some 13,000 people had signed up to pay the controversial €100 charge, generating some €1.3m.
All private households are required to pay the charge by the end of March. Mr Hogan said: "The large numbers of people paying the charge is a clear indication of compliance with the legislation and an acceptance that the household charge is necessary.
"We are one of the last countries in Europe to fund services through local property-based charge," he said.
Details collected by the website include an individual's PPS number. Mr Hogan said this was necessary to ensure individuals were properly identified.
Meanwhile, the Government was accused of using spying software on the household charge website in a way that breaks its own privacy laws.
Dublin Socialist Party MEP Paul Murphy lodged an objection with the Data Protection Commissioner. He said the website records their private information without telling them, using software called "cookies".
The website's privacy statement declares the site uses session cookies which are erased after use, he said.
"But in fact the website actually uses so-called persistent cookies that remain on people's computers after they visit the website," he said.