Moves to pass confidential data to US criticised

CIVIL rights groups have criticised planned EU legislation which allows the Government pass on the contents of phone, fax and e-mail messages to US authorities.

Outlining the extension of an agreement which has been in operation here for 50 years, Justice Minister Michael McDowell said the new laws should hold no fears for the public.

However, Statewatch spokesperson Tony Bunyan said the laws were ambiguous and contradictory and exceeded Europol’s mandate as it was incompatible with the data protection principles of the EU.

“There is no mention of data protection whatsoever and no rules on access to data.”

He accused EU governments of being willing to forget about their obligations to provide data protection for people in Europe in the interests of reaching an agreement with the USA.

However, speaking from Brussels yesterday, Mr McDowell ruled out introducing new safeguards giving citizens the right to know what authorities have on file about them or to correct such information.

“This would be to expose your throat to terrorism,” he said. “There is a necessary secrecy to counter terrorist activities.”

Asked about the need to protect civil liberties he said the safety of the people was the highest law and the cornerstone of civilisation.

“There is a heightened security challenge and Ireland is not exempt from this as Ireland is as good a place to plot terrorism as anywhere.”

On the legislation being drawn up by the Department of Justice he said a response to international terrorism has to be commensurate to the risk posed.

“It is quite clear that the internet was widely used in the preparatory work for September 11 and it would be naive to think that we would have statutory powers to intercept old fashioned and not the new technology,” he said.

There is no formal agreement with the US to share information but the Irish and British Security services have always had informal arrangements with the US and other friendly services.

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