Digital Rights Ireland (DRI), a new group aiming to “Protect Civil, Legal and Human Rights in a Digital Age”, was launched on Tuesday 6th December 2005 in Pearse Street Library, Dublin.
Digital Rights Ireland is chaired by UCD Law Lecturer TJ McIntyre and is comprised of academics, journalists and technologists. DRI believes that citizens’ digital rights are being eroded – the rights we expect in the real world are being stripped from us in the online world. Mr. McIntyre said that DRI intends to “inform the public about their digital rights, to educate policy makers on the importance to a knowledge economy of strong protections for those rights and to lobby for law reform in those areas where change is needed.” Aishling Reddy, Director of the Irish Council for Civil Liberties welcomed the new group; “The ICCL has long recognised the need for advocacy of human rights as they pertain in the computer sphere. We are glad that a specialised group, focused on the specific issues which arise in relation to digital technology, has formed to take on this work. We congratulate them on their launch and look forward to working in co-operation with them in the future.”
With members in a range of specialised legal and technical areas, Digital Rights Ireland will act as a focal point for policy makers who wish to gauge the impact of their regulation in this complicated, and sometimes esoteric, area. In addition, the group aims to provide an informed position on issues in the digital rights field, free from any commercial or political bias. Current areas of concern include data retention, rights to privacy/data protection, helping people to fight spam, and intellectual property issues. Commenting on the launch, respected academic Dr. Gus Hosein (Visiting Fellow in Information Systems at the London School of Economics, Senior Fellow of Privacy International) said “Now is more important than ever for non-governmental organisations to offer expertise in these important areas. In countries where such organisations exist the laws that are passed are always less invasive, draconian and burdensome. Ireland needs this organisation now more than ever.”
Digital Rights Ireland also aims to inform Irish citizens of their rights, and how to exercise them. To that end, pamphlets and research material on areas such as SMS spam and the Data Protection & Freedom of Information Acts have been produced. Pamphlets on othjer matters such as libel liability from online speech will follow. All are freely available for download on www.digitalrights.ie.
At the launch, Mr. McIntyre described DRI’s concerns regarding the government’s data retention laws. Under current Irish law, citizens’ electronic communications data must be retained for 3 years. This includes the physical location of every mobile phone in the country, and the numbers dialled from every mobile and land line. It may be accessed, without a court order or specific ministerial order, by the Gardai. This access need not be in response to any crime. If the Gardai are satisfied that it might be useful in the prevention of a crime (not limited to serious crime), it is permissible.
The Irish Government was one of four countries seeking to have this requirement extended across the EU, and broadened to include online activities. This would require Internet Services Providers to log every email sent and every web page visited. This was agreed at a meeting of EU Justice Ministers last week – although Minister McDowell has since threatened to sue the EU if the plan to have the position endorsed by the European Parliament goes ahead.
Digital Rights Ireland aims to keep Irish people informed about these issues, to defend their right to privacy from unwarranted infringement and to ensure that all legislation proposed and passed is in line with European and Irish Human Rights Law. To this end, DRI has already highlighted a gap in Irish protection for communications privacy. Twenty years after the Kennedy v AG case, where the then Minister for Justice, Sean Doherty was forced to resign after it emerged that he had tapped journalists’ phones, there is still no law to prevent the State, and the Gardai, from reading the contents of personal emails. Popular services, such as Hotmail and Gmail lie in a legal limbo – something Digital Rights Ireland has suggested ought to be addressed.
The Irish Recorded Music Association (IRMA) is currently seeking to sue individuals they say they have identified as having uploaded music onto file-sharing networks. DRI are in favour of civil, legal and human rights being protected in a digital world and that this protection must extend to the legal rights of copyright holders, as much as individuals. However, protection of copyright cannot come at the expense of the civil right to privacy. The speakers outlined their legal concerns about IRMA’s case and the scale of the settlements they are reported to have received to date.
IRMA has also publicly stated that it believes that it is illegal to transfer lawfully acquired music from a (legally bought) CD to a (legally bought) iPod or MP3 player. DRI believes that the law in this area needs to be clarified – and if such activities are illegal, that the law needs to be changed.
Grassroots digital rights groups in other countries have warmly welcomed the launch of Digital Rights Ireland, reflecting both Ireland’s important position in the hi-tech industries and our long history of promoting human rights. “The launch of Digital Rights Ireland couldn’t come at a better time. All Europeans’ online civil liberties are coming under pressure from both commercial interests and heavy-handed government interference, and it is essential that we speak out against the poor legislation and abuses of power that are becoming all too commonplace. I have no doubt that DRI will make great allies, and I look forward to working with them in the fight to protect digital rights.” said Suw Charman, Executive Director of UK’s Open Rights Group.
Shari Steele, Executive Director and President of the US Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has also said that “Ireland has a fine tradition of standing up for freedom as well as adopting and developing the latest technology. We’re delighted that such a key global player now has its own voice for liberty in a digital world. We look forward to working with DRI on mutual issues that will concern us all.”
Digital Rights Ireland is committed to protecting Civil, Legal and Human Rights in a Digital Age. It is chaired by UCD Law Lecturer TJ McIntyre and its members include academics, journalists and technologists. DRI is a contact point for policy makers who wish to gauge the impact of their regulation in this complicated, and sometimes technical, area. In addition, it provides an informed position on issues in the digital rights field, free from any commercial or political bias.