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Ireland blocks plan to give data to Israel

An Irish minister has stepped in to block a plan to share personal data on 500 million European Union citizens with Israel.

LONDON // Ireland has stepped in to block a plan to share personal data on 500 million European Union citizens with Israel. The move represents the latest chapter in the diplomatic fallout following the assassination in January of Mahmoud al Mabhouh, a Hamas commander, in a Dubai hotel.

An Israeli diplomat was expelled from the Dublin embassy last month after an Irish government investigation concluded that a Mossad hit squad, using fake UK, Australian, French, German and Irish passports, was behind the killing. Micheal Martin, Ireland's foreign ministier, said last month that the investigation reached "the inescapable conclusion that an Israeli government agency was responsible".

Britain and Australia had already made similar expulsions, but now Ireland has gone a step further by moving to block the data-sharing plan originally drawn up by the European Commission, the secretariat of the European Union, last January. The proposed scheme, which was agreed after EU organisations responsible for protecting individuals' data decided that Israel's policies and practices met European standards, would allow commercially held data on Europeans to be exchanged with Israel, and vice versa.

It would, for instance, enable customers' billing information for such things as mobile-phone use to be exchanged between Israel and the EU. After an EU investigation into the security of data storage in Israel, it would also enable multinational companies to share information and allow it to be stored and processed by Israeli servers. The plan appeared set to go through "on the nod" until Dermot Ahern, Ireland's minister for justice, intervened last week to block its automatic acceptance.

He ordered Irish officials in Brussels to lodge a formal objection to block the authorisation procedure, meaning that EU governments will now have to debate and vote on the issue in a committee that deals with protection of personal data. A single nation voting against the scheme would be enough to thwart its implementation. "It may well be the case that Israel provides data protections which meet EU standards," an Irish government spokesman said. "But the minister believes the EU committee has to take very serious account of the forgery of EU passports, including Irish ones, by Israel in recent months.

"Personal data provided innocently to Israeli officials by Irish citizens was used in forging passports. Other EU countries, particularly the UK, had similar experiences and that is a matter of the gravest concern." There has been growing concern in Ireland about the vulnerability of the country's passports to be forged, even though the department of foreign affairs points out that new biometric documents were introduced four years ago.

Billy Timmins, foreign affairs spokesman for the opposition Fine Gael party, recently raised the issue in parliament, pointing to not only the Dubai killing but the use of two fake Irish passports by the Russian spy ring broken up in the United States. Calling on Micheál Martin, the minister for foreign affairs, to spell out the measures being introduced to curb the fraudulent use of the passports, he said: "Major questions remain about the security of Irish passports, particularly given the huge numbers of lost and missing documents.

"In 2009, ovter 33,000 passports were reported as lost, stolen or mislaid. This represents six per cent of all passports issued in 2009, which is a staggering number. I expect the minister to address the matter with the utmost urgency." Mr Martin responded that "the firm position of the government in regard to the fraudulent use of passports is a matter of public record". After the Dubai killing, the Irish government considered a worldwide withdrawal of all passports issued before 2005, but eventually decided against the move because of the costs and logistical problems involved.

Rob Brown, a former media editor of The Independent who now teaches journalism in Dublin, says there is a marked anti-Israeli sentiment emerging in Ireland. "To say Irish eyes aren't smiling on Israel would be an immense understatement," he wrote in the Haaretz daily newspaper. "A Southern Irish vessel (the MV Rachel Corrie ) was among those intercepted by the Israel navy and its crew were instantly hailed as national heroes.

"The term 'occupation' conjures up painful folk memories in a land forced to endure centuries of English conquest. The Irish instinctively side in any conflict situation with whoever they perceive to be the underdog." dsapsted@thenational.ae

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