Thursday, 20 January 2011
Communications (Retention of Data) Bill 2009: Committee and Remaining Stages
Peter Power (Limerick East, Fianna Fail)
I understand the intention behind this proposed amendment but I refer the Senator to Article 10 of the EU directive whereby member states are required to submit statistics to the European Commission concerning the operation of the directive and this is provided for in section 9. In essence, this section requires the compilation of certain statistics for submission to the European Commission and these statistics include the number of times when data were disclosed in response to a disclosure request, the average period of time between the date the data were first processed and the disclosure request and the number of times a disclosure request could not be met. Under section 9(5) of the Bill, the Garda Commissioner, the Chief of Staff of the Permanent Defence Force and the Revenue Commissioners must prepare reports containing the required statistics and the contents of these reports, and the provision in the Bill precisely reflects what is in the directive.
As with other EU legal instruments, the Commission has requested that, in the interests of consistency, each member state should compile and submit the same information and statistics for the purposes of uniformity and consistency. Any additional information compiled would have no added value for the directive or the Commission's requirements.
During previous debates on this measure in the Dáil, I mentioned that under Article 14 of the directive, the Commission is obliged to conduct a review of the directive. The purpose of this review is to evaluate the operation of the directive and its impact on economic operators and consumers. The findings of this review are due to be presented to the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers. The Commission's review is under way and, depending on the outcome of the evaluation, the provisions of the directive may be changed in the future. If so, amending legislation will be needed but it is too early to tell what changes, if any, may be required and if any would relate to the information and statistics required by the directive.
The link between communications data and subsequent convictions may not always be clear-cut. The information gathered by means of a disclosure request will form part of a wider body of evidence and may not, of itself, be sufficient to secure a successful prosecution. As the Senator will be aware, evidence is collected from a wide range of sources and it would be almost impossible to identify a clear correlation between a request made to service providers and the number of convictions secured on foot of those requests.
When all the evidence is analysed by the Garda and presented by the Director of Public Prosecutions in court, the process may result in a successful prosecution. If we consider the other purpose of the legislation, the saving of human life, what would the additional statistics prove? If ten requests were made and a single life saved, would the legislation be judged to be effective? In considering this aspect, what statistical value would be placed on saving a human life?
Furthermore, the Senator's amendment would have the unintentional effect of reducing the number of gardaí available to investigate and prosecute serious criminal offences. The amendment seeks to place a heavy and disproportionate burden on gardaí. One should consider the number of Garda hours that would be wasted in collating every request and checking every record of a request to see if that request for retained data led to a successful prosecution or if it formed a significant part of a prosecution. That is not what the Senator intends but it would be the result of the amendment and, as such, the Minister cannot accept it.