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Digital Rights Ireland defend existing online laws before oireachtas committee

Representatives from Digital Rights Ireland and Google appeared before the Joint Committee on Transport and Communications earlier today.

REPRESENTATIVES FROM DIGITAL Rights Ireland have defending Ireland’s existing laws in relation to social media.

TJ McIntyre and Fergal Crehan appeared before the last public meeting by the Joint Committee on Transport and Communications on social media.

Saying that Digital Rights Ireland had been set up to deal with the “new issues that were arising online”, McIntyre, its chair, said that current data protection laws were largely harmonised throughout Europe, thus eliminating many of the jurisdictional issues which had been previously highlighted as being barriers to seeking redress.

Referencing the Norwich Pharmacal orders, which allows for the disclosure of personal information by ISPs, McIntyre said that its use was well established as a way in which the identities of those partaking in abusive behaviour online could be identified.

(The list of existing laws as presented by Digital Rights Ireland)

Legal access

Of greater issue, in McIntyre’s view, was access to Ireland’s courts, with the solicitor saying that “collectively we are too expensive”.

The issue of anonymity was something that McIntyre believed was important, saying that the children’s charity Bernardos, for example, urged that children who wished to discuss parental issues online did not use their real names.

Both McIntyre and Crehan, a practising barrister, had issues with making any changes to the Post Office (Amendment) Act, 1951, section 13 of which relates to abuse via phone and text message.

Crehan said that due to the nature of the phone, the face-to-face abuse that this aimed to outlaw could be far more personal and individualised than similar abuse via social media could be, where the “question of intimacy is lost”.

Changes to this, he believed, could potentially incriminate every web page, where “the most easily offended people get to set the standard for freedom of expression.”

More funding

In order to better deal with social media and the abuse which may arise from its use, the group suggested additional funding for the Data Protection Commissioner (DPC), whose funding was almost back to 2004 levels.

With Ireland the home of so many international IT headquarters, the DPC had one of the “biggest workloads of any regulator in Europe,” McIntyre said, and had to operate with a staff of just 20.

McIntyre also suggested additional funding for the Computer Crime Investigation Unit that operates within the Garda Bureau of Fraud Investigation.

Making any changes to legislation, he argued, would do little but “dump huge amounts of extra work” on these already stretched groups.

Responding to a question from Labour Deputy Anne Phelan, who asked whether an equivalent to the Press Council should be set up for social media, McIntyre said that companies such as Twitter and Facebook already had their own individual complaints resolution services.

A more positive move, he suggested, would be for Ireland to have an equivalent to the UK Safer Internet Centre, which could be a “good front end” through which people could be given guidance as to how to access these existing services.

Any attempt to have a one stop shop could threaten the diversity of social media platforms, McIntyre said.

Crehan added that some sort of educational programme was also necessary, believing that responsible use of social media was a “public health issue”.

YouTube

Today’s committee meeting had started with representatives from Google (who own YouTube) in attendance.

The head of public policy at Google, Sue Dukes, outlined the safety procedures that were already in place and said that the company would be “happy to work with government” to create initiatives in Ireland that were similar to those that existed in other countries.

“Learning to use the internet is as important a life skill today as the safe cross code,” she said, adding that being able to navigate the online world in a safe manner “should be a vital part of every child’s education”.

Read: ‘For us, there is a fundamental value in anonymity’ – Twitter at Leinster House today >

More: Rabbitte: ‘Bullying didn’t come in with the advent of the internet >

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Paul Hyland

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