A pal of many years’ acquaintance, a lifelong member of his local credit union, recently had occasion to visit the institution’s office in order to update – or rather, to reconfirm, since nothing in his life has changed for years and years – his account details. Apart from being sent away to procure whatever evidence was needed that he was not a robot and remained a sentient human being, things were going reasonably well, until the courteous lady behind the desk came to the next question on her tick-sheet.
“Are you a member of a political party,” she asked. My friend – like myself, a tad hard of hearing – assumed he had misheard, and asked her to repeat what she had just said.
“Are you a member of a political party,” she said again. Taken aback, and in typical Irish style, he chose to answer with another question.
“What do you want to know that for? Sure what has that to do with anything,” he enquired. “We have to ask, it’s Central Bank regulations,” he was told.
I don’t know whether the Central Bank requires a credit union to gather such information from their members (the follow-up question, incidentally, was ‘Are you related to any politician?’), but it struck me that the harvesting of such personal data on the citizens of the State is neither justified nor explicable, unless there is something more sinister at play. And there might well be.
How else to explain the rationale of a customer in a poultry-provision shop, here in Mayo, being required to provide a wealth of personal details in order to purchase the couple of bags of chicken feed for the few hens who reside in his suburban back garden. And if this sounds like a tall yarn, you can take my word for it – it’s not.
Poor old Jim, who likes his couple of home-produced free-range eggs of a morning, was asked to answer a list of personal-come-livestock questions before the poultry shop would release the grain he came in to buy. ‘New Department of Agriculture regulations’, he was told, before he decided to go back to feeding the hens on potato scraps.
We are living in an era of data-protection madness, a type of Big Brother surveillance by stealth, where bureaucracy seeks to pry into every nook and corner of our lives on the tenuous excuse of protecting our personal data.
A letter writer to the papers reported his experience of going back to the white-goods retailer where he had purchased his domestic oven two years earlier. He asked whether they could tell him from their records whether his purchase was still within warranty or not.
“Sorry,” said the man at the cash desk, “can’t help you there, I’m afraid. We are not allowed to disclose the information under Data Protection.”
“But hold on,” protested the customer, “it’s my own data I am looking for, not somebody else’s. I just want you to check the date and details of my own purchase.”
“Sorry again, sir, but no can do,” came the implacable response. “Under Data Protection, nothing in those files can be disclosed to anyone.”
And so it goes on. Financial institutions demand that you produce a utility bill to prove your place of residence. (There is in fact no such specific requirement, but it just makes it easier for the bank.)
Parish newsletters sometimes can no longer list the deaths of relatives of parishioners, competition prize winners may not be named, and when it comes to photos – well, you best tread warily.
All of the data-protection nonsense is first cousin to our old friend, Health and Safety, described by one employer as ‘a charter for the workshy’ … But no, best not go there.