Ireland: Data protection watchdog questions airport checks over Pandemic Unemployment Payment


The Irish Department of Social Protection has been questioning passengers at airports to see whether they may have been contravening the terms of the Pandemic Unemployment Payment. Their approach has raised eyebrows at the country's data protection authority, which argues they may have been ignoring the legal requirement for reasonable suspicion as the basis for questioning.

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Data watchdog: ‘Serious doubts’ over whether social welfare inspectors acted lawfully at airports (Irish Times, link):

"The State’s data watchdog has said it has “serious doubts” about whether social welfare inspectors were acting lawfully when gathering information at airports in relation to the Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP).

The Government’s controversial policing of the issue has become a millstone in the dying days of this Dáil term, and other issues have now emerged over whether Government inspectors had the right to question people in a blanket manner at the airports.

Under 2012 legislation, Social Welfare inspectors can question people at ports and airports, but only when they have “reasonable grounds” to believe there is a contravention of the Act.

However, according to multiple reports on social media and elsewhere this week, checking and questioning of people at airports has been widespread.

The Data Protection Commission (DPC) wrote to the Department of Social Protection in recent days asking it on what basis their inspectors had stopped and questioned people at airports, including asking them for personal information and personal public service numbers (PPSNs)."​

It was also recently suggested that the authorities may have been accessing Passenger Name Record (PNR) data for the purpose of identifying people to question at airports. Under EU legislation that information should only be used by the authorities for investigating serious crime. However, the Irish Department of Justice has said that it has not made any such use of PNR data.

See: 'Legislation by press release' - A look at the PUP and travel (newstalk, link)

Member state officials in the Council of the EU are, however, discussing how and whether PNR data may be used for public health purposes.

See: EU: Travel data to be used for public health purposes? (9 July 2020)

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