State agencies target phone and internet records

State security services are being given access to dozens of internet, landline and mobile phone records of citizens every day.

Mobile phone communications are the most commonly sought data by the gardaí, the Defence Forces, and the Revenue Commissioners, with Department of Justice figures showing an average of 34 requests are granted daily.

For the first time, demands for details on internet traffic have overtaken orders to obtain records of calls made on landlines.

In 2011, there were 12,675 requests made by the three organisations authorised under the 2011 Data Retention Act or the earlier European directive.

These obliged the communications’ companies to hand over electronic data on when a call was made, who was involved and, in the case of mobile phones and internet traffic, where the device was when the transmission happened. It does not cover bugging or tapping.

The annualstatistics were released by the Department of Justice ahead of the publication by the European Commission later this year. The 2011 totals represented a scaling-back on a record level of activity in 2010, when 14,928 orders were obtained.

However, the latest totals are still significantly higher than in 2009.

Of the 12,675 requests in 2011, 40% related to mobile phone activity. There were 4,105 instances of internet records being passed over, compared to 3,528 for landlines. The landline total represented a 25% drop on 2010.

Across the three media, the state agencies were particularly interested in recent information. Three quarters of all records were recalled from telecommunications companies within three months of their creation.

Snooping by government agencies has come into focus since the sensational information leaked by Edward Snowden, who had worked for America’s National Security Agency.

Under the 2011 Irish law, records should only be requested if needed for an investigation into a serious criminal or tax offence, if the security of the State is at stake or if deemed necessary to save a life. The right of the gardaí, the Defence Forces and the Revenue Commissioners to seek orders for personal communication records is monitored by High Court judge Iarflaith O’Neill.

He visited all three organisations on the same day in Nov 2012 to review documents relating to the operation of the directive.

In a two-page report, laid before the Oireachtas, Mr Justice O’Neill said he was satisfied that the requests were dealt with properly.

“In each of those locations, such documents and records pertaining to the operation of the above acts, as were requested by me, were made available and were examined by me.

“I also spoke to the persons with responsibility for the operation of the above acts, in each location, and all of my queries were answered to my satisfaction.”

The first Microsoft Transparency Report released earlier this year found gardaí sought access to hundreds of personal emails and other electronic accounts last year. It found gardaí made 72 requests, relating to 222 accounts.

Separately, gardaí made four requests relating to seven Skype accounts. No data was disclosed.

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