New laws to protect data of citizens

Stricter controls and enhanced protection of citizens’ data and communications are set to be announced today with the release of the long-awaited report on the accessing of communication data of journalists.

Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan will propose new laws to restrict the ways gardaí and other state agencies can monitor citizens communications, including the type of data they can hold.

Government sources say the long-awaited Murray report into the accessing of communication data of journalists phones by the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (GSOC) will be published while the stricter data laws are also brought to Cabinet.

It is understood changes proposed will look at which firms or groups can access data as well as the current method whereby applications are made to a judge to monitor communications.

The 190-page Murray report is expected to highlight concerns about how gardaí and other state agencies are obtaining the traffic data of citizens generally.

The inquiry, conducted by former chief justice John Murray, is also understood to raise concerns about Ireland’s adherence to the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

Legal sources have indicated this could have repercussions for current and future prosecutions.

Unlike other forms of surveillance in Ireland — which require either a judicial or ministerial authorisation — requests by gardaí, GSOC and other agencies to access traffic data from mobile phone and internet companies do not need any external permission.

In January 2016, the Government tasked Mr Justice Murray to conduct an inquiry after concerns were raised about the legal basis for GSOC’s accessing of journalists’ phone records in the course of an inquiry.

The Murray report was submitted to the Department of Justice last April and will be presented to Cabinet today alongside revised detention of data legislation.

It comes amid growing legal concerns in Ireland about the system, including submissions from the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission last year.

The Department of Justice said that officials were considering both the report and legal advice on it.

Communication or traffic data includes extensive details of phone calls (but not content) as well as use of websites and email.

It is understood the Murray report has expressed concerns about the use of the power by gardaí and others and its compliance with the ECHR.

The UN Special Rapporteur on Privacy, speaking in Ireland last April, said access to communication data should require a warrant.

The previous November, the IHREC said, ideally, law enforcement agencies should have to seek a court order for such information.

In the current issue of the Irish Criminal Law Journal, Shane Kilcommins and Eimear Stain of the School of Law at the University of Limerick question the legal basis for GSOC’s use of the powers and oversight of them.


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