Irish human rights group criticises Minister for Justice

Ireland's human rights watchdog has criticised Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald's decision to restricting the scope of her surveillance review to the communications data of journalists.

The Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL) has described the reasons given by the Minister as "implausible".

The group was commenting today amidst revelations that An Garda Síochána accesses the communications data of many thousands of members of the public every year.

"The Minister's explanation that the legislative review by former Chief Justice Murray would 'take too long' if it covered all kinds of phone record snooping is simply implausible," said ICCL executive director Mark Kelly.

"The former judge has been asked to review the 'legislative framework' of the 2011 Data Retention Act and that Act makes no distinction whatsoever between accessing and retaining the communications data of journalists and that of other people.

"In other words, the former judge has been asked only to review the adequacy of the law, not to scrutinise the many thousands of times it is used annually to compromise the privacy of journalists and the public at large.

"Consequently, artificially restricting his terms of reference to the law's use to snoop on journalists will not reduce the time needed for his review, but will diminish the value of his findings."

The Council is calling upon the Government to make a very simple amendment to the former Chief Justice's terms of reference to remove the "artificial distinction between the use of the Data Retention Act to snoop on the phone records of journalists and those of members of the public.

However, the Justice Minister has denied that there has been “widespread” surveillance on the general public.

“Let’s be very clear here,” she said yesterday.

“There is no widespread snooping on private individuals, private citizens’ phones or their records, I want to say that to the public.

“When you examine the statistics, about 8,000 requests by the Guards every year – that is not out of line. For example, in the UK you would have over 725,000 requests.”


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