September 14, 2006 | Suw Charman Anderson

Digital Rights Ireland challenges EU mass surveillance law

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact Details: TJ McIntyre Phone: +353 87 2075919 Email: contact at digitalrights.ie Web: www.digitalrights.ie

This press release is being distributed by the Open Rights Group on behalf of Digital Rights Ireland and can also be read online: http://www.openrightsgroup.org/press-releases/digital-rights-ireland-challenges-eu-mass-surveillance-law/

Digital Rights Ireland challenges EU mass surveillance law Irish civil rights group Digital Rights Ireland (DRI) has started a High Court action against the Irish Government challenging new European and Irish laws requiring mass surveillance. DRI Chairman TJ McIntyre said:

"These laws require telephone companies and internet service providers to spy on all customers, logging their movements, their telephone calls, their emails, and their internet access, and to store that information for up to three years. This information can then be accessed without any court order or other adequate safeguard. We believe that this is a breach of fundamental rights. We have written to the Government raising our concerns but, as they have failed to take any action, we are now forced to start legal proceedings."

"Accordingly, we have now launched a legal challenge to the Irish government's power to pass these laws. We say that it is contrary to the Irish Constitution as well as Irish and European Data Protection laws."

"We also challenge the claim that the European Commission and Parliament had the power to enact the Data Retention Directive. We say that this kind of mass surveillance is a breach of Human Rights, as recognised in the European Convention on Human Rights and the EU Charter on Fundamental Rights which all EU member states have endorsed."

"If we are successful, the effect will be to undermine Data Retention laws in all EU states, not just Ireland, and to overturn the Data Retention Directive. A ruling from the European Court of Justice that Data Retention is contrary to Human Rights will be binding on all member states, their courts and the EU institutions."

Attack on Private Life He continued:

"These mass surveillance laws are a direct, deliberate attack on our right to have a private life, without undue interference by the government. That right is underpinned in the laws of European countries and is also explicitly stated in Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The Article specifies that public authorities may only interfere with this right in narrowly defined circumstances."

"The information will be collected and stored on everyone, regardless of whether you are a criminal, a policeman, a journalis, a judge, or an ordinary citizen. Once collected, this information is wide open to misappropriation and misuse. No evidence has been produced to suggest that data retention laws will do anything to stop terrorism or organized crime."

"We accept, of course, that law-enforcement agencies should have access to some call data. But access must be proportionate. In particular, there should be clear evidence of a need to move beyond the six months of storage which is already used for billing purposes. Neither the European Commission nor the European police forces have made any case as to why they might require years of data to be retained."

"Data Retention, as legislated for in Ireland and mandated by the Data Retention Directive is unjustified mass surveillance. The government is deliberately recording information about innocent citizens without cause."

Legal background The action challenges the law on data retention contained in the Irish Criminal Justice (Terrorist Offences) Act, 2005 and the European Data Retention Directive passed in 2006. The action has been commenced in the High Court by McGarr solicitors on behalf of DRI and names as defendants the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, the Garda Commissioner, Ireland and the Attorney General. DRI will ask the Irish courts to refer the Directive to the European Court of Justice for a decision on whether it is valid.

International Support Digital Rights Ireland is the only group bringing a challenge to these laws, but it is supported by many international privacy and civil rights groups.

Suw Charman of the Open Rights Group said:

"Today's annoucement by Digital Rights Ireland is profoundly important for everyone who values their privacy in the UK and the rest of Europe. European politicians ignored strong criticisms from the Union's own privacy watchdogs, MEPs and public interest groups when pushing the Directive through Parliament and it is crucial that it be challenged.

"The Open Rights Group has consistantly argued that Data Retention as implemented by European governments and the EU is unworkable, unnecessary and unlawfully intrusive. This case may decide whether privacy of law abiding citizens from state surveillence will remain possible in the UK and the rest of Europe. We fully support Digital Rights Ireland and look forward to working with them on this issue."

Danny O'Brien of the leading group Electronic Frontier Foundation said:

"The EU Data Retention Directive is an excessive invasion of the privacy and security of all Europeans. Mandatory recording and retention of European citizens' telephone calls by telephone companies and their online behaviour by Internet Service Providers creates a precedent for mass surveillance and is likely to chill freedom of expression on political and social issues that are at the very core of a well-functioning democracy. Digital Rights Ireland's legal challenge to the directive will help protect not only the fundamental rights of citizens of Europe, but also those of other countries tempted along the same path."

Organisations supporting the action include

Open Rights Group, UK Electronic Frontier Foundation, USA Privacy International, UK Foundation for a Free Information Infrastructure, Europe Luridicum Remedium, Czech Republic Digital Rights, Denmark Liga voor de Mensenrechten (League for Human Rights), Belgium Electronic Frontier Finland, Finland VIBE!AT (Austrian Association for Internet Users), Austria IRIS (Imaginons un Réseau Internet Solidaire), France ALCEI (Electronic Frontiers Italy), Italy Internet Society, Bulgaria Quintessenz, Austria

Contact details: Phone: TJ McIntyre on +353 87 2075919 Email: contact at digitalrights.ie Web: www.digitalrights.ie

Background for Editors:

The initial letter from DRI threatening legal action is outlined here: www.digitalrights.ie/2006/07/29/dri-challenge-to-data-retention/#more-40

Media coverage of that letter is summarised here: www.digitalrights.ie/2006/08/06/media-roundup-data-retention/

The Irish Times dealt with the letter in an editorial here: www.digitalrights.ie/2006/08/08/irish-times-endorses-data-retention-case/

Digital Rights Ireland is a non-profit group devoted to protecting civil and human rights in a digital age.

TJ McIntyre is a barrister and Lecturer in Law in University College Dublin.

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