Written answers

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Department of Justice and Equality

Communications Surveillance

Photo of Seán ConlanSeán Conlan (Cavan-Monaghan, Independent)
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293. To ask the Minister for Justice and Equality if she has restricted the report which is to be carried out by former Chief Justice Mr. John Murray into the hacking of telephones and the accessing of data to journalists only, given that the director of the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, Mr. Mark Kelly, stated the snooping on the general public must also be reviewed and that he regretted that the review had been limited to journalists; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [3258/16]

Photo of Frances FitzgeraldFrances Fitzgerald (Minister, Department of Justice and Equality; Dublin Mid West, Fine Gael)
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I assume the Deputy is referring to the accessing of retained communications data under the Communications (Retention of Data) Act 2011. No suggestion has been made, other than by the Deputy, as to the ‘hacking’ of phones. The data available under the 2011 Act is subscriber and traffic and location data - not the content of communications - and it may only be accessed by the relevant bodies empowered to do so, for the purposes prescribed and under the terms set out in the Act in accordance with the respective statutory duties of the bodies involved.

There is simply no question of widespread or mass surveillance of the general public. That would be unlawful and does not take place.

Issues of genuine concern have been raised recently as to the balance in the law concerning the important freedom of journalists to pursue legitimate matters of public interest. I recognise fully the legitimate concerns about the issue of access to journalists’ telephone records and it is for that reason I have established an independent review, to be carried out by Mr. Justice John Murray, the former Chief Justice.

There are complex, competing rights in question here that go to considerations of the freedoms of journalists to pursue their legitimate work and, for example, the fundamental right to privacy of every individual.

The purpose of focusing the independent review on the issue of the freedoms of journalists is in order to ensure that particular issue of concern can be addressed quickly.

It is important to keep the general law in this area under review and, indeed, that is exactly what is done on an ongoing basis by my Department.

Photo of Seán ConlanSeán Conlan (Cavan-Monaghan, Independent)
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294. To ask the Minister for Justice and Equality if private citizens are entitled to know whether their personal data is being accessed without their consent by An Garda Síochána, the Revenue Commissioners, or the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission; the avenues open to private citizens to determine who has authorised the accessing of their data, the grounds on which access was given and the avenues of redress open to them if they believe the access was granted without sufficient reason; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [3259/16]

Photo of Frances FitzgeraldFrances Fitzgerald (Minister, Department of Justice and Equality; Dublin Mid West, Fine Gael)
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I assume the Deputy is referring to the powers to access retained communications data governed by the Communications (Retention of Data) Act 2011. The data available under this Act is subscriber and traffic and location data - not the content of communications - and it may only be accessed by the relevant bodies empowered to do so, for the purposes prescribed and under the terms set out in the Act, and in accordance with the respective statutory duties of the bodies involved.

The 2011 Act provides for the independent review of the operation of its provisions in respect or requests for access to data by a Designated Judge of the High Court. The Designated Judge is entirely independent in carrying out his functions. The Designated Judge has, by law, access to any and all persons and records he deems relevant and reports his findings at least annually to the Taoiseach where this matter is concerned.

The 2011 Act also provides for an independent complaints mechanism whereby any person who believes that data relating to them and that are in the possession of a service provider have been accessed following a disclosure request under the Act may apply to the Complaints Referee for an investigation into the matter. The Complaints Referee has, by law, access to any and all persons and records he deems relevant. If the Complaints Referee finds that the powers in the Act have been contravened he must, inter alia,report this directly to the Taoiseach.

It is important to note that the primary function of this legislation is in relation to the investigation of serious crime, the protection of the security of the State and the saving of human life. Given that the majority of applications under the Act will relate to the investigation of serious criminal activity, it is not the practice to inform those whose records have been accessed as to that fact.

Photo of Seán ConlanSeán Conlan (Cavan-Monaghan, Independent)
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295. To ask the Minister for Justice and Equality where a citizen's private data has been accessed by the Revenue Commissioners, An Garda Síochána or the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission who is the data controller responsible for the handling and management of the data; who has access to it; how, where and for how long it is stored; if it is necessary to make a new request each time a person's private data is accessed; if the data can be used for reasons other than the reason given for accessing it; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [3260/16]

Photo of Frances FitzgeraldFrances Fitzgerald (Minister, Department of Justice and Equality; Dublin Mid West, Fine Gael)
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I assume the Deputy is referring to the powers to access retained communications data governed by the Communications (Retention of Data) Act 2011. The data available under this Act is subscriber and traffic and location data - not the content of communications - and it may only be accessed by the relevant bodies empowered to do so, for the purposes prescribed and under the terms set out in the Act, and in accordance with the respective statutory duties of the bodies involved.

The Deputy should be aware that the Data Protection Commissioner is the national supervisory authority in respect of the 2011 Act - this is provided for at section 4(2) of the Act. The bodies who are entitled to access data under the 2011 Act are subject to the provisions of the Data Protection Acts according to their functions and 'data controller' is defined in law in the Data Protection Acts. The Data Protection Commissioner is independent in carrying out her functions.

I would emphasise to the Deputy Neither I nor my Department are involved in the process of requesting or authorising access to records under the Communications (Retention of Data) Act 2011, nor do I or my Department have any information relating to requests made in the course of investigations. That would simply not be appropriate in the context of the independent functions of these bodies.

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