Progress in the
Penal System (PIPS)

15: Privacy

Standard 15:

A prisoner’s right to privacy, and that of his/her family members, is respected and protected.


An individual’s right to privacy is guaranteed by the Constitution of Ireland, Bunreacht na hÉireann, and the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). Sensationalistic media reporting can negatively impact both the privacy of the prisoner and his/her family, impeding future rehabilitation prospects.

Current context:

In May 2018, the General Data Protection Regulation was introduced which builds on and expands ‘the right to be forgotten’. [415] It remains to be seen how this will be interpreted in light of the Criminal Justice (Spent Convictions and Certain Disclosures) Act 2016.

Professionals have responsibility to protect prisoner privacy. Guidance on securing confidential information has been recently published by Penal Reform International and recommends that: “a secure audit trail involves carefully kept records, which include the identity of the staff member who enters or modifies information in the system, as well as the date and time of any revisions. Audits should be carried out periodically by an identified oversight body.” [416] The Guidance also states that “Only staff that have been trained and authorized to use prisoner file systems should be allowed to access and use the files. In many facilities there will be staff members who are specifically responsible for creating and maintaining files and registers.” [417]

The Press Ombudsman identifies a number of principles that journalists are required to respect in their reporting, and which, if breached give rise to a right of complaint to the Press Ombudsman. [418] These principles include: truth and accuracy, distinguishing fact and comment, fair procedures and honesty, respect for rights, privacy, protection of sources, court reporting, prejudice, children and publication of the decision of Press Ombudsman/ Press Council. [419]

The Broadcasting Authority of Ireland will also consider complaints made by prisoners, examining “the degree of harm or offence likely to be caused” [420] by the content of the programme aired. The complaint should be made directly to the broadcaster within 21 days of broadcast [421] and the broadcaster has 10 days to reply. [422] Neither body currently makes accommodation for potential delays in mail/post in relation to the receipt of complaints from prisoners.

Indicators for Standard:

Indicators for Standard 15

Indicator: S15.1: The number of complaints about breaches of privacy made by prisoners and/or their families to the Irish Prison Service, the Press Ombudsman and the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland.

The low uptake in making complaints may be attributed to lack of awareness of the complaints procedure; absence of data collection or aggregated data; prisoner disenfranchisement; fear of reprisal; or a perception that there is no effective sanction which follows where a complaint is upheld.

Actions required:

Action 15.1: IPRT recommends that the Press Ombudsman and the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland review and extend timelines for prisoners to submit a complaint.
Action 15.2: The Press Ombudsman and the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland should consider developing guidance on the impact of post-release reporting on prisoners’ rights to privacy and family life.
Action 15.3: Professionals working with prisoners should be made aware of their responsibilities to ensure that prisoner privacy is respected.


IPRT Irish Penal Reform Trust


Copyright 2019 Irish Penal Reform Trust. CHY number: 11091

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