Journalists Investigated: Civil liberties group critical of phone probe review

The Irish Council for Civil Liberties has criticised the decision to restrict a review of phone snooping powers to their use in relation to journalists instead of including all members of the public.

Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald has appointed retired Supreme Court judge, Mr Justice John Murray, to carry out an independent review of the laws that allow gardaí, the Garda Ombudsman, Revenue, and the Defence Forces to access journalists’ phone records and other communications data without warrant.

ICCL director Mark Kelly said he had “serious misgivings” about the review’s scope. “This legislation is used by law enforcement agencies to capture a wide range of private information about members of the public,” he said. “The oversight shortcomings that this review will certainly identify are far from confined to cases where the data belongs to members of the media.”

The review, which has a three-month deadline, was ordered following controversy over the revelation that a number of journalists have had their phone records accessed without their knowledge during investigations by GSOC into alleged leaks.

GSOC has had the same powers of investigation as gardaí since 2005, and a specific right to access records without warrant since 2011, but the revelation came as a surprise and led to concerns about the protection of sources and whistleblowers.

Independent TD Clare Daly last night called for a wider review of surveillance laws in Ireland. She told the Dáil there was a “huge problem” of gardaí leaking information to the press. Gardaí could bug cars under surveillance laws and break into homes without formal sanction, she claimed.

TD Mick Wallace said the idea gardaí could interfere with communications facilities of journalists and ordinary citizens was just “madness”.

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