Irish activists oppose data retention fast-track

Irish digital rights activists have said that reported Irish Government plans to keep records of electronic communications are being introduced without adequate public notice or consultation.

The Government is said to be about to introduce measures demanded by the EU Data Retention Directive by a statutory instrument and not through parliament, the Oireachtas. Digital Rights Ireland (DRI) has opposed the move.

"It is incredible that the Government proposes to introduce a law which would require every internet user to be monitored without any warrant or prior judicial approval, without any public consultation and without any debate or vote in the Oireachtas," said TJ McIntyre, chairman of DRI. "A law of this gravity should not be made by stealth."

The Data Retention Directive demands that EU member states order ISPs and telcos to keep records of what emails, internet use and phone call activity has come from what accounts.

The Directive does not order firms to retain the content of the communications, just the time and destination of usage and calls. Countries can order companies to keep data for any period, as long as it is between six and 24 months.

The Irish government is reportedly planning to implement the Directive in a matter of weeks using a statutory instrument rather than pushing a new law through parliament.

"The Department of Justice appears to be relying on the urgency of the matter to justify bypassing the Dail and Seanad [the two houses of the Oireachtas]," said McIntyre. "But the European law being implemented was passed in February 2006. The Department has had two years to introduce a Bill and it cannot rely on its own delay to justify sidelining democratic scrutiny."

The Directive was intended to help countries to establish an evidence trail in prosecutions involving internet use, but has proved controversial elsewhere in Europe.

In Germany it was subject to a constitutional challenge just five days after being passed into law. An objection was filed with the German Constitutional Court on 31st December last year claiming that the logging of all activity would hinder the work of journalists, prosecutors and whistleblowers.

The UK Government partially implemented the Directive last year, passing regulations which mandated the keeping of traffic for 12 months. The regulations do not yet cover internet traffic, though they must do so by March next year according to European Commission rules.

Industry body the Federation of Communications Service told OUT-LAW.COM when the regulations were passed that the information was retained anyway for billing purposes.

"We are advising our members that they are unlikely to have to keep any information that they don't currently keep," the body's Michael Eagle said at the time. "The reality is that nothing much has changed. The new legislation will make little practical difference as most telecoms providers keep certain information for billing purposes and customer records."