Politics, Rights, Technology

Former Irish Chief Justice slams data retention as mass surveillance and threat to fundamental rights

Former Chief Justice of Ireland John L Murray has warned that retained telecommunications data poses a threat to fundamental rights and freedoms in a searing report [PDF] released on Tuesday alongside proposed amendments by the government to Ireland’s data retention laws.

Murray said Ireland’s data retention system touches every aspect of a person’s communications profile for a lengthy period of time.

[Data retention] establishes a form of mass surveillance of virtually the entire population of the state, involving the retention and storage of historic data, other than actual content, pertaining to every electronic communication, in any form, made by anyone and everyone at any time, he wrote.

A vast amount of private information pertaining to the personal communications of virtually everyone in the state is now retained without the consent of those affected in databases maintained by each private service provider in fulfilment of its statutory obligations.

Ireland’s data retention regime, enacted in 2011, mandates that data related to phone calls, text messages, and phone location be kept for two years and IP addresses for internet connections for one year. Due to a decision by the European Court of Justice (ECJ) striking down a European Union data retention directive in 2014, Ireland’s laws in the area need to be modified to remain compliant.

The retained data is able to be currently accessed under a disclosure request by Irish Defence Forces, an officer of the Revenue Commissioners, the Garda Síochána (Irish Police), the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission, or anyone with an appropriate court order or authorisation by the Data Protection Commissioner. The legislation also allows for individuals to request the data kept on them.

The former chief justice warned that safeguards in place for state authorities to access retained data could be undermined by those agencies believing they are entitled to the data if it is deemed useful by them.

Access to a person’s private historical communications data is an intrusion on their rights and on data which is personal to them, Murray said. Mere utility or potential utility is not the test — via ZDNet

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