Minister for Justice to ‘consider’ competition watchdog phone-tap request

White-collar crime investigations should have communications access, watchdog says

CCPC  chairwoman Isolde Goggin said the secretive nature of some criminal acts investigated by it suggest its investigations would be bolstered by additional surveillance powers. Photograph: Eric Luke

CCPC chairwoman Isolde Goggin said the secretive nature of some criminal acts investigated by it suggest its investigations would be bolstered by additional surveillance powers. Photograph: Eric Luke

 

Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan will consider a request from the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC) to be allowed tap phones in an effort to combat white-collar crime.

CCPC chairwoman Isolde Goggin last week said she was of the view that all State agencies investigating white-collar crime should have powers to mount electronic surveillance and intercept communications.

At present, An Garda Síochána is the only State organisation allowed to intercept communications for investigations.

“The Minister will carefully consider any submissions he receives on this issue,” a spokesman for the Department of Justice told The Irish Times.

“The interception of private communications is a significant intrusion on fundamental rights and for that reason the provisions in Irish law in this regard are restrictive. Interception is available for the investigation of serious crime and for security purposes, subject to strict conditions set out in law. Any proposals to extend these arrangements would have to be viewed in that light,” he said.

The spokesman said the law in this area was under review, “with a view to modernising the framework in place”.

A report issued in October by former chief justice John Murray found that current data-retention legislation amounts to mass surveillance of the State’s population.

Digital Rights Ireland chairman TJ McIntyre said: “The situation is that any changes to the interception regime at the moment must involve root-and-branch reform”.

He noted that the “writing is on the wall for the interception regime as it stands”, adding that it did not comply with the European Convention on Human Rights.

While the current regime, under which the Minister allows for interception, could be extended to the CCPC, it’s unclear why there is an urgency for change if investigations are done in an interagency capacity, including in the case of Garda involvement, Mr McIntyre said.

Ms Goggin said the secretive nature of some criminal acts investigated by the CCPC, such as economic cartels, suggest that its investigations would be bolstered by additional surveillance powers.

“The GNEC [Garda National Economic Crime Bureau] has the power. It is important that all white-collar crime agencies have the same suite of powers. We haven’t made a formal request for them yet [but] we will be making a request,” she said last week.