Digital rights activists take Irish government to court

20 Jun 2008

The High Court case between Digital Rights Ireland and the Irish Government over the contentious EU Data Retention Directive kicks off today and will see an intervention from the Human Rights Commission of Ireland, can report.

The civil rights group Digital Rights Ireland says the action against the Irish Government is a stepping stone to a wider case the group wants to take in the European Court of Justice.


The case is challenging the new draconian European data retention law as well as existing Irish law that calls for records of all electronic communications from phone calls and emails to instant messaging and messaging and posts on forums or social networking sites.


Antoin O’Lachtnain of Digital Rights Ireland (DRI) told that the existing Irish law, the Criminal Justice (Terrorist Offences) Act 2005 calls for such data to be retained for 10 years.


He said a similar challenge will be taking place in Germany which has yet to come to court.


“The new laws mean that government can hold onto data for 10 years. In the wrong hands it means someone can find out things about people that might give them more reach and more power.”


Recalling the threat of jail against Irish Times editor Geraldine Kennedy and a colleague over refusing to reveal sources over a tribunal leak, O’Lachtnain said such data as call records could under the new legislation be made available to the State.


“Everyone thinks they can solve problems by having more information available to them. It might allow me to track down terrorists but in practice it doesn’t work like that. Keeping vast amounts of data on people who didn’t do anything wrong is questionable. We need to strike a balance between fighting crime and respecting the rights of individuals.”


The Human Rights Commission of Ireland will be intervening in the case on the basis of advocating for human rights.


DRI says the new laws will undermine privacy and respect for communications. The laws require telephone companies and internet service providers to collect information about all customers, logging their telephone calls, their emails, their internet access and the movements of their mobile phone, and to store that information for up to three years.


“This information can then be accessed without any court order or other safeguard. The information will be collected and stored on everyone, regardless of whether you are a criminal, a policeman, a little girl, a journalist, a judge or an ordinary citizen. No evidence has been produced to suggest that data retention laws will do anything to stop terrorism or organised crime,” DRI stated.


O’Lachtnain explained to that DRI is ultimately seeking a referral from the High Court to the European Court of Justice.


Ironically, the Irish Government itself is taking a court case against the European Commission over the fact that it believes the passing of the European Data Retention Directive was illegal. “No law in Europe can be passed without unanimous approval by MEPs. In this case it was passed based on a majority vote,” O’Lachtnain pointed out.


By John Kennedy

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