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Only one country refused to allow Vodafone publish spying data...Ireland

Digital rights campaigners said that the Government is relying on ‘makey-uppy’ legal interpretations.

Image: Sasko Lazarov/Photocall Ireland

THE DEPARTMENT OF Justice has been criticised by privacy and digital rights campaigners for failing to provide detail on mobile phone surveillance by the state.

Digital Rights Ireland chairman TJ McIntyre said that the decision not to allow  mobile phone provider Vodafone to publish information on surveillance to was based on a ‘makey-uppy’ interpretation of the law.

Vodafone today published the details of surveillance requests submitted to it by governments of the jurisdictions in which it operates.

For Ireland, only the number of requests to Vodafone was published, with permission to publish further information on surveillance refused.

Ireland was unique among the countries covered in the report in that it refused permission to allow Vodafone publish the information, whereas all other countries said it is illegal under their laws to do so.

Culture of secrecy

McIntyre said that a “culture of secrecy” within the Gardai and the Department of Justice was to blame for the lack of clarity on Irish phone surveillance.

He said that the Department of Justice has no legal basis for the secrecy surrounding its surveillance of citizens, and that the reasons for withholding are flimsy.

“This is an area of law where it’s very clear under the European convention on human rights that the controls on secret surveillance must be detailed and transparent.”

“Instead our Department of Justice is relying on makey-uppy interpretations, and why is it doing so?”

There is a culture of secrecy within the Gardai and Department of Justice on all these matters. You can trace it back to The Troubles.

Widespread use

He said that the use of surveillance via mobile phone communications has become widespread within the Gardai beyond what it can legitimately be used for.

“These powers are sold to the public on the basis that they’re only used in extreme cases of crime and serious terrorism, but the reality is that they have become normalised and are used extensively on a day to day basis.”

Ireland data The section detailing Irish refusal to produce information Source: Vodafone

The Vodafone report shows that there were 4,124 instances when the State requested metadata from the mobile phone provider.

With regards to the lack of further information on Ireland, the Vodafone report states:

Whilst local laws do not expressly prohibit disclosure, we asked the authorities for guidance and have been informed that we cannot disclose this information.

Warning

McIntyre said that it was impossible to say how broad or narrow the scope of each request was.

“A single request could cover all of an individual’s movements for the last two years…it could be a request for everyone who passed through Stephen’s Green on a bank holiday weekend.”

He welcomed Vodafone’s decision to publish the information, saying the provider deserves praise for coming out with the information as it had been criticised for an over-willingness to co-operate on data disclosure in the past.

Vodafone Group said it released the information in an “effort to provide maximum transparency” and as part of an “overall sustainability and transparency programme”.

The report covers agency and authority demands for lawful interception and communications data for the period 1 April 2013 to 31 March 2014.

Vodafone intends to update the report at least once a year.

Read: Major victory for Irish online rights group as ECJ strikes down EU mobile surveillance rules>

Read: Digital Rights Ireland defend existing online laws before oireachtas committee>

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About the author:

Jack Horgan-Jones

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