Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Data retention in Ireland

From the Examiner: the Irish government "is to implement controversial European rules for retaining electronic data, including all email and internet traffic, but said it will not rush legislation through this month."

TJ McIntyre of Digital Rights Ireland also has an article in the Examiner today on the same subject, replicated on his blog.

"How would you feel if someone followed you every day, writing down your movements, making a note of everyone you talked to, jotting down the address of every letter you post, and then storing that information for three years? What would you think if that system of surveillance was extended to every single person in the country? While this might sound like the stuff of science fiction, since 2002 the Government has required telephone companies to track the movements of all their users, to log details of every telephone call made and every text message sent and to store that information for three years. The Department of Justice now proposes to extend this further, to require ISPs to monitor everyone’s internet use, including details of every email or instant message we send, and every time we log on or off, and to store that information for up to two years. What’s more, it intends to do this by the stroke of a ministerial pen, with no debate before the Dáil or the Seanad.

The rather dull name for this surveillance is “data retention”. But it might be more informative to talk of “digital footprints”. As technology comes to be more and more part of our everyday lives, we leave a trail of digital footprints recording almost everything we do. Activities which once would have been private (posting a letter) may now leave a record (sending an email). Data retention laws – by storing these digital footprints – mean that the rights to privacy and freedom of expression we take for granted in the offline world might be lost in the digital age...

Laws requiring monitoring of the entire population are astonishing in a democracy. Yet so far there has been very little public debate. One reason might be that this surveillance happens invisibly in the background. But compared to traditional surveillance it is potentially far more intrusive, and carries much greater risks of abuse. In the United Kingdom we have seen the loss of data on many millions of individuals. Here officials in the Department of Social Welfare have been found to be engaged in the systematic leaking and selling of personal information from government databases. There is no reason to think that this information will be treated any differently."

I'd just like to repeat one of the nice sound bites from this piece to emphasise his point: "Laws requiring monitoring of the entire population are astonishing in a democracy."

No comments: