Controversial data-retention bill ‘open to abuse’, will cost ISPs

9 Oct 2009

The controversial bill proposed by Justice Minister Dermot Ahern TD that will require internet service providers (ISPs) and telcos to retain user data for two years not only presents a high cost for telecoms companies but could also be open to abuse, Labour TD Sean Sherlock warned yesterday.

The Communications (Retention of Data) Bill 2009, which transposes into law the controversial EU Data Retention Directive passed in the European Parliament in 2006, will enable a member of An Garda Síochána not below the rank of chief superintendent to instruct an ISP to hand over data as part of a criminal investigation.

Purposes of data-retention bill

Ahern said the purpose of requesting such information could be to prevent serious crimes, safeguard the security of the State and save human lives.

It will also allow an officer of the Permanent Defence Forces not below the rank of colonel to request data, such as email, IP addresses, text messages, etc, in the interest of national security.

Revenue tax officers not below the rank of principal officer may also request such data while investigating and prosecuting specified revenue offences.

Beefier bill

However, Sherlock has called for the bill to be strengthened, saying the content of the legislation is extremely weak.

“It needs to be strengthened on the basis that it will place too high a cost burden on business and does not have adequate judicial oversight, Sherlock said.

“I have serious reservations with this bill, judicial oversight is too weak and the retention of data for a period of two years as proposed by this bill could lead the process to be open to abuse.

“I am critical of the fact that the two-year retention period for keeping data will present too high a cost for internet service providers and telephone companies. The standard across Europe seems to be six months and this, to my mind, would be more a reasonable approach,” Sherlock said.

Bill amendment

“The judicial oversight is too weak and I believe the process has to be open to greater scrutiny by a judge, and this process must be more clearly defined. The present wording in Section 11 of the bill should be strengthened and we hope to amend this wording at committee stage,” Sherlock added.

“We are not against the principle of data retention but the concerns addressed by the tech sector and telcos must be addressed in the legislation. The bill as published does not address these concerns and I hope that there will be a further consultation between the minister and the telecommunications sector before this bill is passed.

“Unless their concerns are addressed within the bill in terms of the increased cost burden, then it will be very difficult to support the Bill,” Sherlock said.

By John Kennedy

Photo: Labour TD Sean Sherlock is calling for the Communications (Retention of Data) Bill 2009 to be strengthened.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years