Watchdog needed to monitor State’s surveillance powers

An independent regulatory authority is “urgently required” to monitor the operation of surveillance powers by state agencies, a leading rights body was said.
Watchdog needed to monitor State’s surveillance powers

The Irish Council for Civil Liberties said the need for such oversight has heightened now that many global technology giants have their European headquarters in Ireland and are affected by Irish laws on surveillance and data protection.

Publishing a report, the ICCL said: “Effective independent review and audit at regular intervals by an independent authority is urgently required.

“Without such reforms, Ireland will remain a ‘black site’ among its EU and international peers in terms of the paucity of internal control mechanisms for oversight and accountability that are necessary to ensure legitimate use of surveillance by agents of the State.”

The report, ‘Surveillance and Democracy’, said legislation introduced in the last seven years expanded surveillance powers to an “unprecedented degree”.

The Criminal Justice (Surveillance) Act 2009 allowed agencies to conduct covert surveillance on people and places, for three months on the authorisation of a judge and for 72 hours without judicial consent in emergencies. It said that tracking devices did not require judicial authorisation.

Subsequent legislation, the Communications (Retention of Data) Act 2011, allowed senior gardaí, without seeking court approval, to request traffic data from telecommunications and internet service providers.

The report said High Court judges are empowered to review the various laws

“But the reporting requirements are so weak that it is virtually impossible to ascertain what powers are being used, how often, and whether the surveillance operations satisfy even the minimal legal requirements.” The ICCL said scale of usage of powers under the Retention of Data Act was “clear” with Vodafone disclosing almost 8,000 requests for data from state agencies between April 2013 and March 2014.

“The concentration of surveillance powers in the hands of Ireland’s police, Defence Forces and Revenue Commissioners — all having the power to initiate their own operations and information requests, and with little independent oversight is troubling enough,” said the report.

“But in recent months, it has become clear that Irish citizens and residents are vulnerable to government-approved foreign surveillance as well.” The report noted that, on November 25, 2014, the German newspaper Suddeutsche Zeitung

released documents obtained by whistleblower Edward Snowden that revealed British intelligence agency GCHQ may have been monitoring Irish telephone and internet communications by tapping underwater cables.

The report said the 2014 GSOC bugging controversy “exposed some very significant faultlines in Ireland’s surveillance landscape”.

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