Those of you who follow the latest news in genealogy research developments will be well aware that July 3rd 2014 was a momentous day in Ireland. The indices to the Republic’s civil records of births, marriages and deaths up to 2013 were made available to viewers online. It was a marvelous occasion, celebrating over 6 month’s hard work by dedicated civil servants (at great cost to the public purse), rightly trumpeted by government Ministers as a big step forward in promoting Irish ancestry to the vast worldwide diaspora.
15 days later the website was closed down … by a [Nanny] State watchdog voicing concerns about data protection. Billy Hawkes, Ireland’s Data Protection Commisioner, declared that a monumental “cock-up” had occurred. It seems that one Irishman was concerned that his DOB and mother’s maiden name were now traceable via the civil birth registers, so the whole website was abandoned overnight. This unprotected public data is available to any Irish resident or visitor to Ireland who cares to venture into one of two General Register Office research rooms.
Our neighbours in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland appear to have no such concerns regarding the publicity of DOB’s or the maiden surnames of citizen’s mothers. All are traceable (for recent decades), if you know how to interrogate British government-funded websites which promote the identification of births, marriages and deaths of loved ones, relatives and ancestors.
Billy Hawkes seems to be overly concerned that some half-wits use their DOB or mother’s maiden name as their sole “password” on unidentified websites of extreme importance to the financial security and privacy of all citizens of the Irish Republic. Really? There are only two High Street banks left in Ireland, after the recent mismanagement of the nation’s economy … by the Government. Neither bank requests DOB’s or maiden names as account passwords – in isolation. Nor does any financial institution to my knowledge. Sensibly, they all have double or triple encrypted password protection for electronic account access, with at least one alphanumerical password randomly selected by the money processor, not the account holder.
Yes, we know that Facebook demands to know its sad users’ birthdays … so that other saddos can send an annual image of a cake or balloon … BUT daft gossip via social media platforms is not of national importance … IMHO … LOL … as they say on FB or similar.
Things are moving on …. yet Billy Hawkes and the Government as a whole remain tight-lipped. Thanks for spending all my income tax on a commendable genealogy research promotion exercise that you cannot agree on. Shame on you all.
Personally, I believe that Ireland’s Office for Data Protection is very culpable in this ludicrous affair. Surely, part of its role is to oversee and guide any publicized venture that intends to make more personal data readily available to the masses. This office’s staff were fully aware of the Irish civil BMD database project, yet they stood back and then claimed to be shocked by the end result … which they did not even check out until a third party raised a minor concern. What do these nameless Data Protection officials do all day? Swap jokes on Facebook?
Billy Hawkes and his team could redeem themselves by recommending that the Irish government funds a series of public service announcements aimed at warning the less computer-savvy man in the street not to use a DOB, marriage date or family maiden name (or forename or address or phone number or bank account number, etc) as their deadly secret “password” which gains immediate entry into all sorts of private online accounts and personal files … if the ill-educated man wishes to retain privacy, of course. It’s a free world, and many social media users seem to like to share everything about their humdrum private lives with total strangers (including addresses, DOB’s, marriage anniversaries and full family details c/w excruciating photos). Then again, if such a public service announcement was made, Billy Hawkes would be justifiably accused of scare-mongering because every IT expert would point out that personal electronic banking and payment systems cannot be hacked by simply entering an associated DOB or name.