An Post will be able to access cable and satellite TV subscription data under new proposals approved for legislation in a bid to identify television licence fee evaders.

Minister for Communication Pat Rabbitte said the legislation, if passed, would allow An Post to cross-check all households and businesses with cable or satellite subscriptions against its database of licence fee payers.

He said he hopes the bill can be passed and in force by the end of the year.

Mr Rabbitte said licence fee evasion in Ireland is around 15%, which is three times higher than in the UK and around €25m to€30m of potential revenue is lost annually to RTÉ.

However, in a statement issued this afternoon, cable company UPC said it is not in a position to give An Post access to its subscription lists because it would contravene "our obligations under data protection".

Meanwhile the Office of the Data Protection Commissioner has welcomed the Government’s recognition of the data protection issues involved in its planned legislation.

In a statement, the ODPC said under Section 8(e) of the Data Protection Acts, restrictions on access to personal data are lifted where a specific legal basis is put in place separately to permit such access.

It said it notes the fact that the drafting of such legislation for the purpose of pursuing unpaid TV licences has received Government approval today.

The office says when enacted the legislation would have the effect of setting aside the consent requirements which would otherwise apply under Data Protection law. 

The ODPC says it expects the department will consult with it in due course in relation to the drafting of the legislation to ensure that it takes full account of data minimisation and data security principles.

Sky Ireland said it protects its customers' data very seriously and continue to ensure it is save in "compliance with all legislative requirements applicable". 

A TV licence costs €160 a year.