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Pro-life 'robo-calls' to Irish numbers came from United States

ComReg and the Data Protection Commissioner say because the calls came from abroad, they can take no action against them.

Image: Answering machine photo via Shutterstock

IRELAND’S COMMUNICATIONS and data privacy regulators have determined the automated phone calls targeted at Irish phone numbers late last year actually came from the United States – meaning they are powerless to take action against them.

A joint investigation by the Data Protection Commissioner and ComReg has found that the calls, which were made to Irish numbers last November, originated in the United States where such robotic calls are permitted under law.

The calls appeared on caller ID systems to have originated from an 01 number, leading many to assume that the calls had been made from Dublin.

Now, however, it has emerged that the appearance of the 01 number was feigned from the United States – and that the calls actually came from the other side of the Atlantic Ocean.

This is despite the fact that the 01 number in question – which was disconnected a few days after the calls began – played the same recorded message as was used by the automated calls.

It is thought that the Irish number had been directly routed back to the United States, where the message – recorded by a man with an Irish accent – was originally based.

In emails written to Irish residents who had complained about the calls, the Data Protection Commissioner said it had liaised “with the appropriate law enforcement authorities in Washington on this matter,” and had “presented them with details of the campaign and the levels of complaints received”.

The emails state:

We have now been informed that the US law enforcement authorities are unable to assist our investigations. They have explained that the phone call campaign in question does not contravene US law and, for that reason, they have no basis on which to initiate investigations in the US in relation to the perpetrators of the campaign.

Regrettably, therefore, we are unable to pursue the matter any further. Had the calls been made from within Ireland there would have been scope to pursue prosecution proceedings in relation to calls made to landline phone numbers registered on the National Directory Database opt-out register.

However, as the calls were made from the USA, there is no scope for the law enforcement authorities in Ireland to take any action against the perpetrators.

The DPC had previously said it had received about 500 complaints over the calls, which would have carried fines of up to €5,000 for the perpetrators if the calls had been made from Ireland.

The automated message carried indirect quotes from Professor Eamon O’Dwyer, a veteran obstetrician from Galway, outlining that doctors were always obliged to intervene to save the life of an expectant mother even when doing so would lead to the death of a child.

“Ireland’s ban on abortion does not prevent doctors from acting to save women’s life,” the recording said. “Claims that doctors cannot intervene to safe mothers in dangers are untrue.”

The full message – which O’Dwyer said he had no involvement in – can be heard here.


Read: Over 500 complaints over abortion robo-calls

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Gavan Reilly

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