Gardaí will continue to access the private information of journalists and the general public “in certain circumstances” despite claims that this is “mass surveillance” and may breach EU law.
Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan said the policy will continue in a limited form despite admitting the existing law governing the practice needed to be changed as a matter of urgency.
Speaking at a media briefing to launch legislation to replace the 2011 data access and retention act in response to the long-delayed Murray report, he said there were problems with the existing rules and that it posed “difficulties” when compared with sections of EU law.
He said the Government was prioritising reforming the 2011 act to address the issues and to put in place specific reasons for when the access to a persons’ private information can be allowed by a judge in new legislation to be introduced “in the coming months”.
However, asked if this legislation would prevent the practice from continuing in the future, he said further cases may be allowed in “in certain circumstances” and declined to say how many people are affected to date.
“There may well be certain circumstances where access to data may be required — what this legislation will do will be to clearly define what those circumstances are,” he said.
He said in future the balance must be found between “the rights of the citizen on the one hand and a robust legal circumstance”, with a judge to make a decision on a case by case basis over when records can be accessed.
However, hitting out at the response to the Murray report last night, Labour justice spokesman Sean Sherlock said serious issues remained over how the State was allowed to take part in “mass surveillance” of the public — despite concerns it breached EU laws.
Noting the fact the Murray report has been with the Government since April, he said: “The review was initially commissioned to look at issues around access by statutory bodies to the communications data of journalists.
“However, as the published report now makes clear, the importance and scope of these issues stem from the fact that our statutory framework establishes a form of mass surveillance of virtually the entire population.
“The most important fact is our 2011 act was passed to give effect to an EU directive (2006/24) which obliged member states to ensure the retention of communications data. But that directive was struck down as invalid by the European Court of Justice in 2014.”
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