Eircom customers who have their broadband connections cut off for persistently sharing music illegally online will be able to apply for immediate reconnection to another service provider, it has emerged.

Under current data protection laws, the former state-owned company cannot inform other providers it has barred any of its 500,000 or so retail broadband customers from using its service.

As a result, despite the company's much-publicised introduction of a 'three strikes' system to curb illegal sharing of music online, other providers will have no way of knowing that a prospective new customer has been blacklisted.

Under a new process agreed with IRMA last February, Eircom agreed to introduce a "graduated response" whereby customers who are caught sharing copyrighted music will get three warnings before having their broadband service cut off for a year.

A spokesman for the Data Protection Commissioner, Billy Hawkes, said there was "no current legal basis" for companies in the sector to share information on customers who have been barred.

"The commissioner would be concerned about any company that released its customers' personal data to third parties without the consent of its customers or any appropriate legal basis," he said.

Ireland is the first country in the world where a system of "graduated response" is being put in place.

But Dick Doyle, director general of IRMA, acknowledged there was nothing to stop individuals who had been barred by Eircom from reapplying for a service with an alternative provider.

However, he said international research has suggested that 80% of file sharers desist when formally contacted by their service provider.

"People can always move," he said. "But if the international research is correct, and let's presume it is, then this will act as a significant disincentive."

A spokesman for Eircom said that, while it would be maintaining records of its customers, it would not share this information with the music industry.

He also said the company did not intend to share any information with other broadband providers.

But he said it could not rule out doing so in the future, although any such move would be subject to the requirements of data protection legislation.

He also noted that such a situation was "hypothetical" as it is currently the only service provider which is operating the system.