It may seem like a relatively obscure role in the scheme of things but Ireland’s new Data Protection Commissioner, Helen Dixon, will hold global sway.
That might sound like a counterintuitive statement. But when you consider that over the last twenty years, many of the world’s biggest tech companies (Facebook, LinkedIn and Apple amongst them) have moved their EU headquarters to the Emerald Isle, it begins to make more sense. Ireland has low corporate taxes. They like that.
But it means that Ms Dixon, who succeeds outgoing Commissioner Billy Hawkes, will have rather a big say in how these leviathans use the online information of around a billion users. As Dublin-based data protection expert Daragh O’Brien puts it:
“Ireland’s data protection watchdog has found itself responsible for protecting the data of a large part of the world’s population. It’s the first person over the top on any privacy battle.”
He’s not exaggerating. When Facebook moved its international HQ to Ireland five years ago, it also moved the protection of most of its users’ online data into the Irish Commissioner’s hands (80 percent of Facebook’s 1.2 billion users live outside North America).
The new Commissioner and her 31-strong team will shortly have even more powers: next year, the European Union is set to complete its new privacy rules, and they’re likely to significantly the Irish regulator’s status as “first port of call” for a vast number of privacy complaints against US tech companies. There’s some substantial clout for the office coming up: companies breaching Europe’s privacy laws can be found 5 percent of global revenue (capped at a maximum limit of $130 million).
Irish content creators, however, can probably rest assured that even with new moves afoot in European data protection law, they are in capable hands with Ms Dixon. She holds, amongst other qualifications, a postgraduate diploma in Computer Science and a Masters in Governance from Queen’s University Belfast. She can also claim bragging rights over an 11-year stint with two US IT multinationals and extensive experience in senior management roles in the Irish Department of Jobs.
And another thing: Ms Dixon is the first woman to hold the role since it was established in 1988.