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Dáil should change law on GSOC powers before election

18 January 2016

The NUJ has called for all-party support for legislation to amend the law which allows GSOC to secretly access phone records and without judicial oversight. The NUJ wants the matter dealt with prior to the forthcoming election.

Welcoming the decision of the Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald to review “the law and practice” in relation to the access to data Séamus Dooley, Irish Secretary, noted the widespread political support for a change in the law. He said:

“It is clear that the Oireachtas did not fully consider the implications of amending the Communications (Retention of Data) Act 2011 last year. There is a compelling argument for reversing last year’s amendment. 
"This could easily be done with all-party agreement. It should be possible to bring forward legislation and have it dealt with by both Houses of the Oireachtas as a matter of urgency. We welcome the announcement by Ms Fitzgerald of a review but this should not be a protracted exercise. If the current Dáil does not deal with this issue it will be long fingered and is unlikely to receive legislative priority.
 “Many citizens are disturbed by the discovery that phone records can be scrutinised in this way by GSOC. Judicial oversight should be required before records are scrutinised and the bar should be set high, in order to prevent trawling exercises.

"The right to protect confidential sources of information is fundamental to the ability of the media to operate in a democracy. The fact that records can be  accessed without the knowledge of the journalist, and that contacts  can subsequently be contacted by investigating officers without the knowledge of the journalists concerned,  raises issues of grave importance for the practice of journalism. It is not, however, just a matter for journalists and should concern all citizens.

"There is also a need for a wider debate on data storage and use.

"Currently the Act allows for an appeals procedure, in the case of individuals, and a judicial review of how legislation is being used.  However the ex post facto appeal is of limited value, occurring after a journalist has discovered that his or her confidentiality has been breached.”

Is it too much to hope for law on snooping to be changed before election is called? Séamus Dooley in the Irish Independent.

Tags: , ireland, Communications (Retention of Data) Act 2011, surveillance, Frances Fitzgerald, phone records