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Power to shut down phone networks is 'proportionate' - watchdog

The Irish Council for Civil Liberties says shutting down mobile phone networks is a fair power to deal with terrorist threats.

Image: italianestro via Shutterstock

A CIVIL RIGHTS watchdog has said the proposals to give the government the power to shut down mobile phone networks, if it fears the possibility of a terrorist attack, is a reasonable and “proportionate” power for the government to hold.

The Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL) says the proposal – which is being included in anti-terrorism laws passed by the Dáil today, and being sent to the Seanad – is a reasonable one.

This evening the council said the circumstances under which phone networks could be shut down were particularly stringent.

“The proposed cessation of mobile services is subject to strict time limits; can only be authorised at the highest levels; and must be demonstrated to be of direct material necessity,” said ICCL policy manager Deirdre Duffy.

Duffy said any measure such as the power to shut down a mobile phone network needed to be subject to strict controls in order to be complaint with international human rights and civil liberties standards, and the legislation “largely” fulfilled this requirement.

It has been suggested that the proposal to allow mobile phone networks to be shut down has been deliberately brought forward so that the laws will be in place before the G8 summit taking place in Fermanagh next month.

The aim of the legislation is to ensure that a bomb cannot be remotely activated over the mobile phone network.

Duffy said the legislation was not yet perfect, however, and said the current wording did not guarantee that access to the emergency services would still be available – that is, that a mobile user could still dial 112 to call the emergency services if a network was shut down.

She added that the legislation did not discuss the geographical area that could be targeted by a shut-down – “something that in the interest of proportionality should be provided for explicitly in the text”, she said.

The ICCL has also called for the powers to be made subject to some kind of parliamentary review, or for a sunset clause to be inserted into the Bill so that TDs would get another chance to evaluate whether the system was working as intended.

Read: Britain to use chairmanship of G8 to focus on terror threat

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Gavan Reilly

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