Startling memo on retaining data
Madam, – Karlin Lillington is to be applauded for her continuing coverage of telecommunications data retention in this country. It is notable, however, that her latest report, on a secret deal between State agencies and telecommunications companies to share more data with the State than they will be required to by law is buried in the business section (Business This Week, September 25th).
This secret deal is not just startling, it is shocking, even if we are no longer surprised by secretive State deals.
The retention of telecommunications data for easy access by law enforcement and Revenue officials may not be an issue that ranks high on the average citizen’s list of priorities at present, but that the State has conducted itself in this secretive and unwarranted manner is of wider importance to the way in which this country is run and the nature of our democratic governance.
The ministers for justice, defence and finance should be called upon to provide details of this secret agreement and the civil servants concerned should be questioned on this matter by the relevant Oireachtas committee. – Yours, etc,
Madam, – Karlin Lillington wrote about a “secret” memorandum of understanding (MoU) and secretive deals which bypass the Oireachtas in some bizarre plot of industry in collusion with the dark spies of Government.
This sensationalist piece of journalism does a disservice to the telecommunications industry and the State authorities involved. The industry is also taken aback not to have been contacted by The Irish Times for comment on the status of the memorandum of understanding. We have freely spoken about seeking such a memorandum in the past and have worked to manage the scope and relevance of crimes under which this law could be used.
The reality is that in the wake of the serious terrorist attacks of the past decade, the EU passed Directive 2006/24/EC which must be transposed into national law. This wide-ranging directive requires that certain data must be retained by the providers about every telephone or internet communication made by every EU citizen, whether or not they are suspected of any wrong-doing so that if requested it may be examined by the specified state authorities in investigation of serious crimes.
This retained data will not include any content of the communications, for example, the details of a telephone conversation.
We expect that the Government will enact this directive into Irish law later this year as the Communications (Retention of Data) Bill 2009.
The EU institutions drafted a vaguely termed piece of legislation despite the advice of industry that specific definitions were required and regrettably that vagueness continued into the Data Retention Bill. So, the objective of the memorandum of understanding, which is still in draft, is to agree practical definitions interpreting the vague technical language of the Bill into specifics within which the communications industry, the Garda, Revenue and Defence Forces can work.
This draft memorandum is highly desirable as it also aims to establish a single point of contact principle which should minimise mistakes and abuse.
There is nothing “secret” about the memorandum, it is simply at a stage where it is still being negotiated and not public. Several meetings with senior representatives from the Department of Justice were held in relation to the directive, its transposition and the memorandum of understanding. There are no “sweeping assumptions” and, despite what Ms Lillington claims, the minimal interpretations of the memorandum stay absolutely within the terms of the directive and the published Bill.
Ms Lillington failed to raise genuine concerns about the Data Retention Bill. Not only will the telecommunications industry be made shoulder the burden of servicing requests under this law, but also the cost, unlike in some other EU states where governments foot the bill for data requests. This will have to be passed on to the customer and will have an adverse impact on the attractiveness of Ireland as an e-commerce centre.
This surely is of more concern than your writer’s “sweeping assumptions” of secret deals and dark pacts which clearly bear no consideration for the purpose of the Bill: “the investigation of serious offences, the safeguarding of the security of the State and the saving of human life”. – Yours, etc,