Minister's reasons for snooping review restrictions "implausible" says rights watchdog

  • 21-01-2016
  • Categorized in: Justice

Minister's reasons for snooping review restrictions "implausible" says rights watchdog

Press Release - Thursday 21st January 2016 

Ireland's human rights watchdog, the Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL) has described as "implausible" the reasons given by Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald TD for restricting the scope of her snooping powers review to the communications data of journalists.

 

The watchdog was commenting today (21 January 2016) amidst revelations that An Garda Síochána authorises itself to access the communications data of many thousands of members of the public every year.

 

ICCL Executive Director Mr Mark Kelly said:

 

The Minister's explanation that the legislative review by former Chief Justice Murray would 'take too long' if it covered all kinds of phone record snooping is simply implausible. The former judge has been asked to review the 'legislative framework' of the 2011 Data Retention Act and that Act makes no distinction whatsoever between accessing and retaining the communications data of journalists and that of other people."

 

"In other words, the former judge has been asked only to review the adequacy of the law, not to scrutinise the many thousands of times it is used annually to compromise the privacy of journalists and the public at large", Mr Kelly added.

 

"Consequently, artificially restricting his terms of reference to the law's use to snoop on journalists will not reduce the time needed for his review, but will diminish the value of his findings", Mr Kelly concluded.

 

The Council is calling upon the Government to make a very simple amendment to the former Chief Justice's terms of reference to remove the "artificial distinction" they create between the use of the Data Retention Act to snoop on the phone records of journalists and those of members of the public.

 

ENDS

 

Note to editor

 

The terms of reference given to former Chief Justice Murray by the Government currently direct him:

 

‘To examine the legislative framework in respect of access by statutory bodies to communications data of journalists held by communications service providers, taking into account, the principle of protection of journalistic sources, the need for statutory bodies with investigative and/or prosecution powers to have access to data in order to prevent and detect serious crime, and current best international practice in this area.’

 

The Council is suggesting that the words "of journalists" be deleted, adding the words "in particular" to retain an appropriate emphasis on the importance of the protection of journalistic sources.

 

Amended terms of reference for the former judge could read:

 

‘To examine the legislative framework in respect of access by statutory bodies to communications data held by communications service providers, taking into account, in particular, the principle of protection of journalistic sources, the need for statutory bodies with investigative and/or prosecution powers to have access to data in order to prevent and detect serious crime, and current best international practice in this area.’

The Submission to the Review by Mr Justice John L. Murray on the Law on Access to Communications Data can be accessed here.

 

 


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