Dáil Questions: Data Protection & the Boston College Case; HET jurisdiction

9 July 2013
Dáil Éireann Debate: Written Answers

Data Protection

Addressed to the Minister for Justice and Equality (Mr. Shatter) by Deputy Clare Daly for WRITTEN on Tuesday, 9th July, 2013.

416. Deputy Clare Daly asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if his attention has been drawn to any instances in which the American National Security Agency and-or the British use of National Security Agency records has compromised any Irish citizens and-or their lawyers; if he will raise the issuance of the second subpoena of the Boston College oral history archives, as a result of electronic eavesdropping on Irish citizens and their lawyers, with his counterparts in the United States and the United Kingdom.

Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Alan Shatter): As I have indicated to the House previously I, of course, fully understand the concerns which have arisen in the wake of recent media reports about the PRISM programme. These concerns mainly centre on data privacy rights not being adequately respected. I raised these concerns with the US Attorney General Eric Holder at my recent meetings with him in Dublin. At these meetings, the US Attorney General provided clarity on a number of issues, in particular with regard to the nature of the information collected and processed, i.e. phone numbers, duration of calls etc – but not the content of calls. He also advised that the data was collected under judicial authority and only where there was a reasonable suspicion of serious crime, such as terrorism or cybersecurity/cybercrime.

We cannot ignore the very important fact that there is a recognised need to protect our citizens from terrorist threats and dealing with that does require access to certain data. In doing so, however, it is necessary to ensure that the information used is properly obtained and subject to appropriate safeguards. The importance of protecting individual rights to privacy and ensuring respect for individual human rights contained in the European Convention on Human Rights was emphasised to the US side, as was the crucial need to ensure that any security surveillance undertaken is balanced and proportionate. The US authorities have indicated that their practices are proportionate to the threat they are trying to deal with.

In this country we have data protection legislation to protect individuals against unwarranted invasion into their privacy. Access to telephone call content is governed by the Interception of Postal Packets and Telecommunications Messages (Regulation) Act 1993 and may only take place under Ministerial warrant. Access to retained telecommunications data in this jurisdiction is governed by the Communications (Retention of Data) Act 2011. Under the Act access may only be granted following a request to the particular mobile phone company or internet provider in connection with the prevention, detection, investigation or prosecution of a serious offence, the safeguarding of the security of the State or the saving of human life.

The operation of both Acts this is subject to judicial oversight and there is also a complaints procedure which individuals can avail of if there is a concern that the Acts have been breached in relation to their calls or their data. There are also procedures in place under Mutual Assistance legislation to cover requests to and from other countries for this type of information. I am not aware of any instances of the kind referred to by the Deputy. My Department has no function in relation to the Boston College oral history archive.

Boston College Case

Addressed to the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade (Mr. Gilmore) by Deputy Clare Daly for WRITTEN on Tuesday, 9th July, 2013.

133. Deputy Clare Daly asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he will, on the back of the revelations of the extensive spying by the American National Security Agency, which has also been revealed to be used by the British GCHQ, raise the issue of the second Boston College subpoena with his counterparts in the United States and United Kingdom; if his attention has been drawn to any instances, including any relating to the Boston College subpoena case, where Irish citizens and/or their legal representatives have been compromised.

Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade (Deputy Eamon Gilmore): The allegations of surveillance of EU premises, if true, are of concern to all EU Member States, including Ireland. The EU’s External Action Service has sought clarification of the situation in both Washington and Brussels. High Representative Ashton has also spoken directly about this matter to Secretary of State Kerry and at a press conference, President Obama emphasised the importance of the US relationship with Europe and gave a firm undertaking to examine these allegations and to provide “all the information that our allies want”. I welcome this clear statement and undertaking.

While Ireland is not one of the Member States identified in the media reports to date, the Government has already expressed its concerns to the US Embassy in Dublin at a senior official level and looks forward to clarification being provided in response to the EU’s request. Any further steps will be considered in light of the clarification received. Data protection issues are the primary responsibility of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence, and he has previously told the House of his discussions with the US Attorney General Eric Holder during the EU-US Ministerial meeting and in a bilateral meeting on the issue. It was agreed to set up a working group between the EU side and the US security services to continue dialogue in relation to this matter.

10 July
Dáil Éireann Debate: Written Answers

Northern Ireland Issues

Addressed to the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade (Mr. Gilmore) by Deputy Clare Daly for WRITTEN on Wednesday, 10th July, 2013; Transferred (from) Justice and Equality

596. Deputy Clare Daly asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if in view of recent revelations by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary that the Northern Ireland Historical Enquiries Team failed properly to investigate crimes committed by the British military, and in view of the fact that the HET and PSNI have relentlessly pursued confidential tapes held at Boston College to the exclusion of any other line of enquiry regarding offences committed in this State, he is prepared to assert jurisdiction over this matter.

Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade (Deputy Eamon Gilmore): It is vitally important for the future of Northern Ireland that a stable and lasting peace be firmly established. As stated in the Good Friday Agreement, the tragedies of the past have left a deep and profoundly regrettable legacy of suffering. We must never forget those who have died or been injured, and their families.

In the context of the “Together: Building a United Community” initiative by the Northern Ireland Executive, the Northern Ireland Assembly will shortly establish an All Party Working Group under an Independent Chair to consider and make recommendations on issues that cause community divisions, including Dealing with the Past.

The HET has an important role to play in ensuring that the families of all of the victims of violence in the past can pursue the truth of what happened to their loved ones, and it plays a significant part in the pursuit of justice. I am aware of the comprehensive Inspection Report by HM Inspectorate of Constabulary into the PSNI’s Historical Enquiries Team. I believe it is essential that the HET operate to the highest standards of effectiveness and impartiality, so that the people of Northern Ireland – and in particular, the families of the victims whose cases are being reviewed – can have confidence in it. Consequently I welcome Chief Constable Baggott’s acceptance of the Inspection Report’s Recommendations and his commitment to work with the Policing Board on ensuring their delivery.

I am glad to inform the Deputy that there is close and ongoing co-operation between the Garda Síochána and the PSNI on all aspects of policing. The two police forces have in place a joint Cross Border Policing Strategy which has as its aims to improve public safety throughout Ireland, to disrupt criminal activity and to enhance the policing capability of both police services on the island. The Garda Commissioner and the Chief Constable of the PSNI who have responsibility for operational policing co-operation have repeatedly emphasised that the close and high quality co-operation between their forces has been instrumental in preventing attacks, combating criminality and saving lives.