In defense of data privacy

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Irish and international data privacy issues

Irish government plans data retention bill

Under pressure from international law enforcement agencies, the Republic has become one of the first EU nations to draft controversial legislation that could allow personal data to be retained for up to four years.

Under secret Department of Justice proposals, detailed personal data on every Irish citizen's phone and mobile calls, faxes, and email and Internet usage, would be stored in huge databases.

"We have serious concerns that this [Bill] is treating everybody as a potential suspect in a crime," said Mr Malachy Murphy, e-rights convener for the Irish Council for Civil Liberties. "This would also appear to go against the European Convention on Human Rights, which has explicit protections for citizen privacy."

Read the full piece here; and my front page story here. Minister for Justice Michael McDowell then denied the story on the news, claiming it was 'misleading'. Judge his comments and some further facts on the issue, here.

Irish responses to the secret Council of Ministers survey on data retention plans are here.

The opinion of the Irish Data Protection Commissioner is here.

EPIC's excellent world data retention information page is here, with coverage of numerous countries including Ireland.

The Irish government is trying to make data retention sound routine. Here is what EPIC says: "While many providers currently retain certain traffic data for billing and other business-related purposes for short periods of time, there are no government-imposed retention requirements in the major industrialized countries." Ireland now has mandatory retention as of last April, but the country is not, of course, a major industrialised nation.



It is extremely important that citizens express their distaste for this bill now, before the Department hardens its stance into a formal Heads of a bill. At the moment it looks like the Heads won't be published until September or so.

Writing your TD is an excellent and very powerful place to start -- politicians know well that a single letter or call represents the likely feelings of many hundreds of voters; many emails, letters and faxes on an issue is a strong reminder that votes may be at stake. More importantly, many politicians are hard workers on behalf of their constituents: but they cannot guess at the depth of constituent feeling on an issue unless you write.

You can get TD addresses and emails from the phone book -- or check this very useful table of TD contact addresses and phone numbers from the people over at

You may also email Minister Michael McDowell at However, either a letter, fax or phonecall is likely to be more effective than an email. Other ministers to email/mail are: Taoiseach Bertie Ahern:; or his constituency email, (because this is his government and ultimately, his policy); Communications Minister Dermot Ahern: (because his department is concerned with communications and e-commerce issues); Tanaiste Mary Harney: (because as tanaiste and head of the Dept. of Enterprise, Trade and Employment she has concerns about business and e-commerce issues).


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