The Department of Education and Skills is developing a database to assist is in analysing aspects of how students progress through the education system in Ireland.

I agree with the intent of this database (based on my understanding of it, that is), but have loads of concerns around how this database is structured.

For a thorough analysis of the state-of-play, I suggest reading the following:

  • Daragh O Brien's set of questions that seem not to have been asked or answered by the Department of Education and Skills in its analyses that gave rise to this project.
  • Daragh's second discussion of the matter in which he considers the department's responses and attitude.
  • Simon McGarr's review of the legalities involved.

My two big concerns are that it's a centralised database (despite it being in the Revenue Commissioners' data centre) and that it maintains information on pupil's religion. Given that religion is one of the most likely reason for discrimination, a centralised database uniquely identifying nearly everyone under the age of 30, including information on their religion, is a spectacularly inappropriate thing for a modern democracy!

However, I think it's not quite correct to draw similarities between this mess-up and Irish Water's. There are, indeed, many parallels, but there's another scandal which comes closer.

Remember e-voting?

There was an initiative that came from the senior civil servants and was supported unquestioningly by the respective ministers.

There was an IT project that initially failed to consider the full gamut of security implications, due – largely – from the fact that those specifying the systems were inappropriately qualified for the task.

There was a political SNAFU resulting from a steadfast refusal to listen to the concerns of those who knew what they were talking about and who stood to be affected by the end result.

Remember the famous 6 consultants' reports that all said the proposed e-voting system was secure, even though security wasn't in scope for some of them, and for the others its scope was severely constrained? I am reminded of this specific situation by the Department of Education and Skills claiming that the Data Protection Commissioner is satisfied with the Primary Online Database, when, in fact, the responsibility for the protection of the data rests with the department, and not the Data Protection Commissioner.

We should expect more political embarrassment on this one soon.

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