Potential for Misuse Takes Down IrishGenealogy.ie Database

Today’s issue of The Irish Times reports why the “enhanced” civil records database was removed from the IrishGenealogy.ie website last week.

The following excerpts are taken from a column written by Elaine Edwards:

In a matter of minutes last week The Irish Times was easily able to find (with their permission) all the following information about several colleagues and friends on a Government genealogy website: dates and places of birth, mothers’ maiden names, spouses’ names, marriage dates, places of marriage, spouses’ parents’ names.

Without exception all were surprised or disturbed to learn of the easy availability of such information — in particular mothers’ maiden names which are commonly used as a security question for banking and other purposes…

There is no doubt about the enormous benefit to genealogists and other researchers of having certain information available online…

But personal data on living individuals enjoys protections that data about dead people does not – for very good reason.

If combined with other information that individuals or organisations might already hold or be aware of, the potential for the misuse of this database of registry office data online for other purposes was clear…

What hadn’t occurred to those who developed the site for the benefit of genealogists clearly raised instant alarm bells when it was drawn to the attention of the Data Protection Commissioner last Thursday The database simply had to be taken down.

The commissioner ascribed it to cock-up rather than conspiracy…

That last sentence made me smile for its pure Irishness.

However, overall it’s a sad situation. What a waste that so much time and effort were spent by the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht in developing the database, apparently without realizing the privacy implications. Such bad publicity will certainly prompt close scrutiny – and slow progress – of future genealogy projects.

On a personal note, I’m disappointed my travel schedule didn’t allow time to do any research on the site before it was taken offline.

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