The Irish Times view on proposed new legislation on telecoms: more transparency needed

New draft laws would allow the Government to ban the use of telecoms equipment deemed a security threat, but there has been far too little political scrutiny of the move

New draft laws would give ministers the power to ban telecoms equipment made by Huawei, the Chinese tech giant, and any other group with kit deemed a security threat. So long as national security is cited, such companies can be ousted from the Irish market without any need to publicly document the reasons.

These drastic steps reflect anxiety about the risk of personal, corporate and State data, moving through electronic networks, being collated, stored and put to improper use by unfriendly state agents. But there has been far too little political scrutiny – and questions abound over the justification for such blunt measures, the manner of their introduction, their swingeing scope and paltry appeal mechanisms. The Government is also at risk of being pursued for compensation by any business compelled to scrap and replace banned equipment.

There is nothing new in concern about technological overreach. In the era of surveillance capitalism, the commodification of supposedly private data for commercial gain is a fact of life. Big money is made, yet the risk of abuse and lax controls is clear. A ¤265 million regulatory fine in Ireland against Facebook owner Meta over privacy violations was the fourth such sanction in 14 months, bringing the total to ¤910 million.

If Huawei critics are to be believed, concern reaches deep into the realm of national security. This was the driver for the weekend US ban on Huawei and four other Chinese companies, the implication being that their gear can aid intelligence snooping. China insists that this is not the case. European authorities are on a similar path. New powers to ban “high-risk vendors” from Irish networks come under the cloak of the EU “security toolbox” for 5G mobile systems.


Security safeguards are clearly necessary. But the lack of serious political inspection is as glaring as the absence of a comprehensive Government evaluation of risks to justify such measures.

The new powers were introduced on the fly, the night before committee discussion on amendments to draft communications law. Dáil debate is already scheduled to move on. As it stands, therefore, there will be no basis for interrogating ministerial claims that any technology should be banned. It can be an offence to publicise such bans – and appeal rights are heavily curtailed because banned companies won’t have the right to High Court documents substantiating claims against them. This marks a departure from the legal principle that an accused party must have the right to challenge the accuser. That it should glide through on the nod is simply not acceptable.

China’s embassy in Dublin has cried foul, claiming economic ties could be jeopardised. But the fundamental problem here is the lack of even basic transparency in Irish law.