Activists raise the alarm at government's draft spying plans

Rights groups have expressed concern at moves by the Government to draft legal proposals allowing State agencies access encrypted communications.
Activists raise the alarm at government's draft spying plans
Liam Herrick: 'Legislating for the interception of encrypted messages would be a significant breach of privacy in our communications with others.' File Picture. Picture: Gareth Chaney / Collins
Liam Herrick: 'Legislating for the interception of encrypted messages would be a significant breach of privacy in our communications with others.' File Picture. Picture: Gareth Chaney / Collins

Rights groups have expressed concern at moves by the Government to draft legal proposals allowing State agencies access encrypted communications.

The Irish Examiner reported

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The development followed revelations last Thursday of a spying operation by a joint French-Dutch police team, which breached encrypted devices on the

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In July 2019, Mr Justice Charles Meenan, who supervises Ireland's laws on intercepting communications - the Interception of Postal Packets and Telecommunications Messages Act 1993 - reported that security officers had raised concerns that the act was “considerably out of date having regard to technical developments that have taken place since”.

In a statement, the Department of Justice said the ability to lawfully intercept communications was an important tool.

“In recent years, there have been significant technological advancements in the area of communications, including the encryption of data, which have necessitated new and more innovative approaches to law enforcement responses,” it said.

“As highlighted in the Report of the Designated Judge it is essential that our domestic legislation (Interception of Postal Packets and Telecommunications Messages (Regulation) Act 1993) keeps pace with technological developments.

“Legislative proposals, with a view to modernising the current legal framework, are being prepared by the Department for the consideration of the Minister and the Government.”

Reacting, Liam Herrick, executive director of the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, said they have previously called for an overhaul of the legal framework governing surveillance, interceptions and data retention in Ireland.

“Legislating for the interception of encrypted messages would be a significant breach of privacy in our communications with others," he said.

"Protecting and ring-fencing message confidentiality is important for the security of activists, whistle-blowers, journalists, and any member of the public who wants to communicate privately.

"There is a grave risk that allowing for access to such private messages would in fact undermine security and privacy."

Associate Professor at UCD School of Law, TJ McIntyre said: “It’s not clear what is being proposed, but it is clear that the Department of Justice should not be devising major changes in the law with no input from the public.

It is time for an open and transparent debate around reforming surveillance laws in Ireland to bring them into compliance with European human rights standards.

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