The Irish Data Protection commissioner has ordered the closing of civil records search because of fear that it exposes too much information”
“The front of the Irish Genealogy website on Monday morning. Photograph: Irish Genealogy/Screenshot
The Irish government closed part of its genealogy website on Friday, after the country’s data protection commissioner warned that potentially sensitive personal details were available to all.
Irish Genealogy, a website created by the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, offered people born or married in Ireland the ability to search for civil records such as birth certificates as part of their research into their heritage.
But those records contain data such as dates of birth and mothers’ maiden names, information which is frequently used as security questions for accounts such as online banking. That information is not legally defined as “sensitive” under Irish data protection law, but the commission stepped in to prevent the data anyway.
Billy Hawkes, the Irish data protection commissioner, said his office had been consulted on the site, but that it had not been made clear that the information available would be contemporary as well as historical.
“We had been consulted on it in the context of putting on the registers which were over 100 years old – that would be fine. But this was a total shock to us,” he told the Irish Times. The commissioner’s office had not responded to requests for comment at press time.
The information contained on the website has always been publicly available, but before online access to civil records was turned on, it had required payment of a fee to get a copy of an individual record. But online, free searches offered the potential of malicious actors bulk downloading data in an effort to match up information with records from other sources.
The site, which only launched the search on Thursday 3 July, now notes that “Civil Records Search is temporarily unavailable … Further update will be provided.”
In March 2013, when the Irish Genealogy site launched, it focused on historical records, offering users the ability to search the 1901 and 1911 censuses.”