‘Big Brother’ bill for public discussion

20 Feb 2003

The proposed Telecommunications Retention of Data Traffic Bill that has raised the ire of many civil rights groups as well as telecom carriers and internet service providers (ISPs) is to be the subject of an information forum to be held this Monday by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Michael McDowell.

When news of the bill came to light last November, calling for telcos and ISPs to log and monitor phone calls, text messages, faxes, emails and internet over a four-year period, it prompted outrage amongst civil liberty groups and telcos concerned at the ‘unwieldy’ task of complying with such a ruling. Telcos also complained that it could harm the growth of e-commerce amongst consumers concerned about online privacy.

The proposed bill by the Department of Justice is understood to be in response to a European directive aimed at improving international security response to terrorism and other criminal activities such as drug trafficking and paedophilia.

On Monday evening (24 February) at the Alexander Hotel in Dublin at 4.30pm, the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform will take its first step towards facilitating a process of consultation on the subject. An information notice from the department said that for ‘logistical purposes’ it is necessary to limit participation to two representatives from interested organisations.

A draft programme for the event will include an introduction by Minister McDowell, followed by a description of Directive 97/66/EC of the European Parliament concerning the processing of personal data and the protection of privacy in the telecoms sectors. This will be followed by a briefing by the gardai on the contribution of data retention in the fight against crime, before listening to contributions from participants, likely to include civil liberties groups, telcos and ISPs.

By John Kennedy