Law Reform Commission yet to review laws on internet bugging

The State’s independent legal advisory body has not been requested to examine the country’s surveillance laws — eight months after the Government said it planned to do so.

The Law Reform Commission confirmed yesterday that they have not been contacted by the Government.

Last November, Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald said that as part of plans to expand legislation on phone interception to include email and internet communications, she would also order a review of the entire area.

The Irish Examiner reported yesterday that the Tánaiste is to brief the Government in the coming weeks about the forthcoming laws expanded to cover online interception.

Announcing the plans last November, the Tánaiste said “a comprehensive review of the law” was also considered desirable given the advances in communications technology and the evolution of the legal environment and international law.

“In this context, it is proposed in the first instance to request the Law Reform Commission to carry out a review of the law in order to contextualise the issues arising and on which to base a broader debate on reform the law in this area,” she said at the time.

She said the review would examine international models of best practice and “take account of the ever-growing importance of the need to balance investigative powers with fundamental rights to privacy and freedom of expression”.

She said the area was the subject of “significant case law” from the European Court of Human Rights and the European Court of Justice in recent years.

“It is necessary to seek to frame our laws in this area in light of those developments to the greatest extent possible,” she said.

When contacted, the LRC said it had not received any request on this issue and was not examining it.

Law lecturer TJ McIntyre, the chair of Digital Rights Ireland, said: “I’m disappointed but not surprised. It’s a failure to act on their own commitment which confirms that Justice will only act to reform surveillance when forced to do so by litigation such as that brought by DRI.”

DRI has its case on national data retention laws before the High Court next week after winning a European case before the European Court of Justice in 2014.

In a statement yesterday, the Department of Justice said: “In the context of the ongoing work in developing legislative proposals in this area and the need to take into account the implications of the evolving case law of the European Court of Justice, including the Tele 2/Watson judgment, it was decided to await the decision of the Government in respect of certain aspects of the proposals that would have been referred to the Law Reform Commission.

“Once the Government has decided on the course of action to be taken in respect of the proposals for the law in this area, a request will be made to the Law Reform Commission to examine a number of legal issues relating to privacy and communications, including developments at EU level.”

Meanwhile, the Irish Council for Civil Liberties has lodged freedom of information requests to the Department of Justice, the Department of Defence and the Defence Forces in relation to what intelligence is shared with other countries.

It is part of a global campaign, involving rights groups in eight countries, aimed at uncovering international information-sharing agreements between intelligence agencies.


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