Concerns over new laws on bugging; Fears of a surge in requests to intercept online communications

The State’s human rights watchdog has expressed concerns over Government proposals to reform Ireland’s bugging laws.

Legal experts and the State’s investment agency also warned that the proposals will lead to a surge in requests from domestic and foreign police and security agencies to intercept phone and electronic communications.

And investment chiefs in IDA Ireland said they were concerned about any “unintended consequences” that could have a “negative impact on Ireland as a location for investment”.

The concerns have emerged in limited documentation released to the Irish Examiner under the Freedom of Information Act.

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC) wrote to the Department of Justice after a briefing on proposals to amend legislation on lawful interception, which will include online communications.

It said that while the policy document’s assertion — that most people would accept that a proportionate and lawful intrusion into the privacy of a very specific group of individuals engaged in terrorism or serious crime was not an unreasonable price to pay in safeguarding the security of the state and safety of its citizens — was uncontroversial, it was not convinced with the proposals.

“On the basis of the briefing to date we would have concerns as to whether the proposed amending legislation would, in fact, meet the necessary standards of necessity and proportionality,” said IHREC chief commissioner Emily Logan. She added that some immediate concerns include: What constitutes the “security of the State” and “serious crime”; whether the department is moving from ministerial authorisation for interception to judicial authorisation, and what particular rules, “if any”, will be introduced in relation to the interception of communications by “journalists, lawyers and parliamentarians”?

She also raised the nature and resourcing of judicial oversight.

Solicitors Mason Hayes & Curran and IDA Ireland said the plans would increase demands on both the Department of Justice and service providers.

Mason said: “The number of affected entities will likely be very large — particularly given the large number of online operators who have chosen to base their European headquarters in Ireland.

“This could lead to resourcing demands for the department in relation to interception requests from both domestic law enforcement requests and in particular arising through the 2008 Act [Criminal Justice Mutual Assistance Act 2008].”

Leo Clancy of IDA Ireland said: “IDA is concerned about any unintended consequences of new legislation that could have a negative impact on Ireland as a location for investment which provides a best in class ecosystem for data.

“When extra-territorial requests are included the total volume, including from other jurisdictions, may be substantial.”

It relation to access to encrypted data and communications, he said such proposals would need to be “carefully considered as part of a comprehensive engagement” with industry.

Editorial: 10


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