[Data retention] equally addresses all the law subjects, regardless of whether they have committed penal crimes or not or whether they are the subject of a penal investigation or not, which is likely to overturn the presumption of innocence and to transform a priori all users of electronic communication services or public communication networks into people susceptible of committing terrorism crimes or other serious crimes.
The Data Retention Bill goes to Committee Stage before the Dáil today. The Irish Council for Civil Liberties have put together some excellent submissions on how the Bill should be amended to protect fundamental rights – a copy is here.
Séan Sherlock (Lab.) is also on top of this issue and has put forward extremely desirable amendments designed to reduce the retention period and to establish greater transparency in the oversight of data retention – these are available on the Oireachtas website (PDF).
The Romanian Constitutional Court declared, yesterday afternoon, the data retention law (law 298/2008) as unconstitutional, as it breaches art 28 of the Romanian Constitution which provides that secrecy of the letters, telegrams and other postal communications, of telephone conversations, and of any other legal means of communication is inviolable.
So far there is no press release of the Court and the decision has not been published yet, there are only press articles about it. An English report (not entirely accurate) is available on mediafax.
As with the German decisions against data retention, this isn’t directly applicable to our High Court challenge. But it is extremely useful as evidence of a growing trend throughout Europe to find data retention laws constitutionally suspect.
Karlin Lillington has a strong piece in today’s Irish Times about a leaked draft agreement on data retention between state agencies (the Garda Síochána, Revenue and Defence Forces) and the telecoms industry (represented by ALTO, TIF and the ISPAI). Her comments are worth quoting extensively:
A secret memorandum of understanding between State agencies and the communications industry on how to implement the as-yet non-existent Government data retention legislation, confirms longstanding concerns about who is managing the data retention agenda and to what end.
With data retention, it appears that the tail is wagging the dog, in blatant disregard for proper democratic legislative process. The agencies that want access to our call and internet data are bypassing the Oireachtas, which at least theoretically, is the body that draws up and implements legislation.
As one alarmed privacy advocate told me: “This is legislation by decree.” …
No doubt, the argument will be made – and indeed is, within the body of the 13 page memorandum – that the document exists to help streamline the process by which our data are requested and handed over to various bodies that will now be allowed to look at it. Or as the memorandum states: “to promote efficient and effective standards of co-operation between the State and the Communications Industry.”
But it is not the business of the agencies to arrange any such matters privately with the communications industry, especially in the absence of actual legislation, or any public discussion or input, or any significant Oireachtas debate on a Bill that has only recently been published and not yet debated.
A data retention bill has not been passed by the Oireachtas yet, so this extraordinary “agreement” is based on sweeping assumptions, not articles of law.
More startling is the fact that agencies and industry are making such secretive plans for co-operation at all. It is the job of the Oireachtas and, ultimately, the courts to determine how legislation will be interpreted and implemented, not the Garda Commissioner, the Revenue Commissioners or the Defence Forces by private agreement.
This is the equivalent of the Financial Regulator securing a private understanding with Irish companies and banks as to how they will be supervised and how evidence will be obtained from them for investigations.
Another concern is that the memorandum, as it stands, indicates an agreement to obtain data that goes beyond what has been proposed so far in the published data retention bill.
The memorandum arranges for communications companies to hand over ‘‘any available personal details” of an IP address user, e-mail sender or VoIP user, even though the draft Bill (as seen by The Irish Times earlier this year) only requires name and address.
The memorandum also contains an agreement to hand over the MAC address associated with a computer user – the numerical “address” of a physical piece of hardware, such as a laptop, that enables it to connect to a network – though not required by the Bill.
The memorandum concludes with supreme arrogance: a detailed schedule pertaining to what will be handed over and how, matched to the text from the “Act” – again, simply the proposed Bill the Oireachtas has not yet approved. The schedule has a column for the “mutual agreement of retained data” and another for “issues addressed and agreed”.
Excuse me? Since when do agencies and industry get to “mutually agree” how they will privately interpret and comply with publicly mandated legislation (setting aside the glaring absence of any such legislation on which to base their ‘mutual agreement’)?
The memorandum notes in conclusion that it should be disseminated within Government “where necessary” and copies of the signed agreement be filed with legal representatives and stored internally in company files.
So, we have a private deal arranged in advance, in disregard of the role of the democratically elected Oireachtas and with no public input or scrutiny, between State agencies and the communications industry on how they will interpret and act on one of the most controversial pieces of legislation proposed for the State and European Union.
Legislation that has massive privacy and security implications for citizens and for businesses, and which already has been criticised by several leading business figures from indigenous and multinational companies as a threat to Ireland’s business environment.
Such arrangements have no place in a democracy and will surely alarm businesses that have chosen to base themselves in Ireland. Revelations that they exist will not instill confidence that privacy safeguards will be respected for citizens or businesses, nor dispel concerns that other murky off the record arrangements will be made along the way.
To be fair, there are portions of the draft agreement which are highly desirable. It aims to establish a single point of contact principle, which should minimise mistakes and abuse. It seeks to have state authorities digitally sign and encrypt any email requests for information. And it clarifies the appallingly vague technical language in the draft Data Retention Bill in a way which may make it workable.
But these safeguards should be built into the legislation itself, made mandatory and enforceable by judicial supervision. Instead, this agreement leaves them to an ad hoc arrangement between the State and the telecoms industry, and admits that it is merely “a non-binding statement of understanding or agreement [which] creates no legal obligations or commitments on the signing parties”. Moreover, it does so in secret, with no public input into the process. And, as Karlin points out, in some places it goes beyond what the draft legislation would require, and commits ISPs to handing over information without any legal obligation or permission to do so.
The Minister for Justice in Ireland published the Communications (Retention of Data) Bill last week: it was made available on the Oireachtas website (and brought to my attention by the ever-helpful Darius Whelan), although curiously, some reputable (and normally reliable) newspapers wrote on Monday morning about the legislation being due to be published! It will presumably be debated in the Oireachtas (parliament) when its honourable members return after the summer. Data retention legislation requires service providers to keep certain types of data on the activities of their subscribers and users, and to disclose it to relevant authorities on request. I hope that this post is of interest to Irish and non-Irish audiences, though, as the issues are arising in many jurisdictions, whether through the EU’s data retention directive of 2006 or independently. I also point to this extremely helpful status report on transposition as of January 2009: it shows very clearly that many states have included both judicial authorisation and cost recovery, which are absent from the Irish proposals.
The publication of the Bill isn’t a major surprise. A draft had been leaked, and of course this is but the Irish implementation of the 2006 Directive – so we cannot blame the Irish government alone for bringing forward these proposals. The underlying Directive remains an unconvincing one. I am not opposed to all attempts to use new forms of communication in conjunction with crime prevention, detection and prosecution. Nor am I unsympathetic to the way that some in law enforcement will feel that they are falling behind those who they pursue in terms of the use of technology. But data retention carries with it a financial burden, an administrative nightmare and, most importantly, a shift in the balance between the citizen and the state that may be presumed to be irreversable: surveillance powers, once granted, are rarely rolled back. These are broad powers, requiring retention of everyone’s data even if those having data disclosed are a subset of this (rather than the alternative of notifying a service provider to retain data on a given subject for a limited, specific purpose). As is so often the case, specific information from law enforcement on the problems with existing legislation has not been forthcoming, and public statements focus on the most extreme of cases (the Irish Minister for Justice gave us international terrorism and child pornography in his public comments today). Anyway, to ten questions that occur to me after giving the Bill some consideration.
(1) We are reassured that the legislation, as with the Directive, doesn’t apply to ‘content’, but getting information on who you are communicating with and (particularly in the case of mobile telephony) where you have been over the course of two years is more than trivial – it is a very intrusive way of finding out what a person (unconvicted of any crime) has been doing in their private life. How is this acceptable?
(2) The proposals follow in the disreputable tradition of sidelining the judicial branch – making the powers in essence a general authority for digital search and surveillance operations without a warrant. Nothing in EU law requires that the powers of accessing data be exercisable by senior Gardai (not to mention principal officers in the Revenue Commissioners, a new addition to the Bill that was not part of the earlier draft) – although it does appear tighter than the UK version, which appears to let anyone with a tanard or a lanyard to make a request. There are some safeguards supposedly in place (annual statistical reporting, a judge with the job of monitoring the system), but we’ve seen that they are quite weak: see for example TJ McIntyre’s recent discussion of the current judicial ‘oversight’ of phone intercept and data retention legislation. Furthermore, the officer authorising the access to data merely has to be satisfied that it is required for preventing, detecting, investigating or prosecuting a serious offence – which, for example, carries no need for reasonable suspicion of criminal behaviour on the part of the person whose data is being disclosed. It’s a dragnet-style provision that gives powers to police, Army and revenue officials and enables them to carry out large-scale investigations without any disclosure of such to the affected individuals nor any effective right of appeal or transparency. Why could this system not be restricted to cases approved by an independent judge after specific evidence of necessity is presented by the requesting officer?
(3) Data retention remains doubtful in terms of fundamental rights compliance: in the ECHR, S & Marper v UK questions mass monitoring of the unconvicted, Copland v UK reiterates that traffic data is covered by Article 8 (as I argue here); the German courts are considering various challenges (summarised by Digital Rights Ireland: 1 | 2), and DRI itself is engaged in a challenge to the Directive. The prior case brought by Ireland against the Directive related purely to legal basis and did not address fundamental rights at any stage. Does this legislation comply with the high standards of the protection of fundamental rights that Ireland aspires to meet?
(4) Under the Directive, retention is required for between six months and two years. The UK provisions (SI 2009/859) require a standard 12 month period. The Irish proposals would require it for a year for Internet and two years for telephone. Supporters of the legislation are spinning this as a reduction from the existing (and supposedly stopgap) three year period under 2005 legislation, conveniently neglecting the requirement under EU law to reduce it to a maximum of 2 years in any event. Why is a 2-year period necessary, particularly where other implementing States are able to adopt shorter periods?
(5) No information is provided in the Bill, explanatory memorandum or press release on who will bear the costs of retention. Compare this with, for example, the UK regulations which at least empower the Home Secretary to reimburse ‘any expenses incurred’ (which are well into the millions) in complying with the regulations. Bear in mind, too, that while some providers will keep billing data for obvious reasons, this is not the case for all providers. Who will pick up the bill and why has it not been ‘costed’ in a published impact assessment?
(6) The Bill applies without more to all providers of publicly available electronic communications networks and publicly available electronic communications services. These are wide (and imprecise) definitions that, given that specific statutory obligations are created (’a service provider shall retain’), causes doubt for many (webmail? webmail-like? open wifi? voice IM?). This will cause panic and confusion across the sector and will have seriously damaging consequences for Ireland’s ability to promote itself as a destination for high-tech industries. Compare with s 10 of the UK regulations, which provide that the obligation is only activated when the Home Secretary notifies the provider (although the Secretary does have a statutory duty to notify all relevant providers!) Why does the Government wish to create new duties without precision on who the duties will affect?
(7) There is a ‘redundancy’ provision in the UK regulations (again s 10), which states that the Home Secretary doesn’t have to notify providers where the data is retained by another provider. Presumably, this protects downstream ISPs and similarly situated others. There is no such provision in the Irish legislation and the clear terms would require the same data to be collected at multiple locations. Why are the supporters of data retention so generous with the time, money and effort of others?
(8) The detailed instructions (Sch 2, Part 1, 5(d)) requires retention of the date, time and (cell ID) location of the activation of a ‘pre-paid anonymous (mobile telephony) service’. Is this the end of pay-as-you-go anonymity through the back door?
(9) The definition of ’serious offences’ is broad (although it is an improvement on the draft, which would have allowed the powers to be used for any offence with a 12-month sentence attached to it). Any offence carrying a five-year sentence along with selected other offences (from poisoning to the false reporting of child abuse) count. How were these offences selected and what is the basis for their inclusion?
(10) The complaints procedure under s 10 of the Irish bill is bizarre – you can find out if a disclosure request has been made about you by making a request (if you believe that your data has been disclosed!!), but you will only be told if it has been made if it turns out that the rules have been contravened. Translation: meaningless. And there’s a broad barring of legal action other than the required constitutional right of action. And ‘a decision of the (referee who deals with complaints) … is final’. And evidence obtained in violation of the statute is not automatically excluded, as it should be. Given the argument that those with nothing to fear have nothing to hide, why does the Government fear challenges so much as to bar them?
Just so there’s no confusion we’re repeating the request here – if he genuinely has nothing to hide then surely he’ll be happy to provide us with details of his (taxpayer funded!) mobile phone bills for the last two years and we’ll be happy to put them online. A request has been sent to him by email and by voicemail to his constituency office asking if he will make that information available to us and if not why not. Any reply will be posted to this blog. Though perhaps you shouldn’t hold your breath.
Update (14.07.09): The chutzpah of FF TDs knows no bounds. According to today’s Independent, at a recent FF meeting backbenchers opposed being required to use a swipe card to track attendance:
The TDs also resented the idea of a swipe card that would keep track of their comings and goings at Leinster House and prevent claims for expenses from absent members…
TDs and senators believe that a pilot scheme for civil servants where their attendance and hours in work would be monitored by a swipe card system will be used to check up on them. And while most privately acknowledge that a few may abuse their expenses and allowance privileges, they resent the idea of a “Big Brother system of electronic supervision”.
Good news from our friends in the German Working Group against Data Retention:
As the first German court, the Administrative Court of Wiesbaden has found the blanket recording of the entire population’s telephone, mobile phone, e-mail and Internet usage (known as data retention) disproportionate.
The decision published today by the Working Group on Data Retention (decision of 27.02.2009, file 6 K 1045/08.WI) reads: “The court is of the opinion that data retention violates the fundamental right to privacy. It is not necessary in a democratic society. The individual does not provoke the interference but can be intimidated by the risks of abuse and the feeling of being under surveillance [...] The directive [on data retention] does not respect the principle of proportionality guaranteed in Article 8 ECHR, which is why it is invalid.”
The Working Group on Data Retention which has initiated a class action of over 34,000 citizens against the total logging of the entire population’s communications and movements welcomes the court decision very much. It calls on social democrats and christian democrats to reject the latest government project to allow Internet service providers to record everybody’s Internet surfing habits.
“We call on all citizens to contact their MPs now in order to protest against the proposed retention of web surfing habits,” says Werner Hülsmann, member of the board of the forum of computer scientists for peace and social responsibility and actively working in the Working Group on Data Retention. To stop the project, which the Bundestag will debate on Thursday in the first reading, the Working Group on Data Retention has set up a campaign page on the Internet. In early March, the Federal Council of Germany (Bundesrat) also warned that the proposed “storage of all Internet usage data without a specific cause or with blanket coverage [...] violates” the Constitution.
“The recent criticism by Federal Minister of the Interior Wolfgang Schäuble (CDU) of the Constitutional Court’s preliminary decision on data retention proves that his surveillance mania is limitless”, criticizes Patrick Breyer of the Working Group on Data Retention. “It is not ‘a matter for the legislature’ to keep eroding our constitutional guarantees protecting us from errors and abuses by the authorities. We urgently need to establish a Fundamental Rights Agency to have all existing powers and programs of the security authorities systematically and scientifically reviewed as to their effectiveness, cost, adverse effects, alternatives and compatibility with our fundamental rights.”
Granted, this isn’t the end of the matter in Germany. It’s a decision of one court but may be appealed, while the highest court in Germany (the Constitutional Court) has yet to make a final ruling. It is, however, a very encouraging sign – particularly as the Constitutional Court has already indicated a provisional view that data retention may be invalid. It’s also very helpful for our own case with its finding that data retention is disproportionate and unnecessary.
You might have noticed Karlin Lillington’s story in the Irish Times today about the Department of Justice’s new proposals on data retention. To make a long story short, it turns out that the Attorney General was not impressed with its remarkable plans to change the law to extend surveillance on every citizen in Ireland via a ministerial order – sidestepping the need for the Oireachtas to review these changes. Having been rebuffed on this issue, the Department of Justice has now decided to proceed (as it should have done to begin with) via primary legislation.
An improvement for transparency? It would be, if Justice lived up to their past promises to hold an open consultation process. But they haven’t. Their website still claims that the Directive will be transposed via a statutory instrument – notwithstanding the fact that they have prepared a draft Bill which they have been circulating to industry groups. Nor are they willing to show the draft Bill to the public – consultation for Justice appears to mean a secret process controlled by them and excluding citizens.
We’ve contacted Justice for their comments. In the meantime, we think that the public should have the same right to see the draft Bill as industry insiders, so here’s a copy of what we understand is the latest draft: COMMUNICATIONS (RETENTION OF DATA) BILL 2009
Karlin Lillington has an interesting story in today’s Irish Times on recent UK developments in surveillance and what they might mean for Ireland. Here’s an excerpt:
NET RESULTS: When it comes to abuse of privacy, where Britain goes, Ireland tends to follow. That’s why we should be worried – very worried – about developments across the Irish Sea that emerged as the year rolled over into 2009, writes Karlin Lillington.
First came a New Year’s Eve story in the Guardian that home secretary Jacqui Smith will propose the creation of a single giant communications database and the option of outsourcing the storage of all the personal details held under the UK’s data retention regime to a private firm.
That means potentially that a single repository – a massive, national communications database – would hold all the details about, though not the content of, everyone’s e-mails, phone calls, faxes, text messages and internet use.
The same array of data is retained in Ireland as well, though at the moment, as is the case in Britain, data is retained by the communications providers, not in a central database.
Gathering such a spread of private information into a single database would create a “hellhouse” of personal private data that would not only be vulnerable to security breaches on a massive scale but would prove too great a temptation for law enforcement, according to Britain’s former director of public prosecutions, Sir Ken McDonald.
McDonald was scathing in his criticism of the idea. “Authorisations for access might be written into statute,” he told the Guardian. “But none of this means anything. All history tells us that assurances like these are worthless in the long run. In the first security crisis, the locks would loosen.”
While “security” would be cited as the main impetus for such a database, “the notion of total security is a paranoid fantasy that would destroy everything that makes living worthwhile” and bring an “ugly future”, he said.
One of the areas she points out – remote searches or the ability of the police to remotely hack into your computer to find evidence or monitor your activity – will certainly be one of the big issues of 2009. While Irish law doesn’t currently deal with this issue, there are moves at EU level to encourage (and possibly eventually require) all member states to allow remote searches. This becomes more worrying when combined with a growing law enforcement desire to be able to conduct “remote cross border searches” – that is, for the police in country A to be able to hack into a computer in country B. This strategy – also known as “chasing bits across borders” presents its own problems for privacy and especially accountability.
The Irish Times is reporting that the Joint Committee on European Scrutiny (a cross party committee which examines proposed EU legislation) has published a report which is highly critical of European proposals on passenger records.
We all support reasonable and proportionate measures to counter violence perpetrated against innocent people, but such measures should represent a proper balance between the need to combat such illegality and the rights of the innocent majority to go about their daily lives without undue interference by the State. In my opinion, and that of my EU colleagues, the Commission proposal fails this test. The proposal involves an obligation on air carriers to transmit to a state authority, called a “passenger information unit”, the PNR information that the passenger has provided to the air carrier in respect of any journey by air into or out of the European Union. The information typically includes contact details, such as address, phone number and e-mail, as well as payment information, such as credit card details. Under the proposal, the information has to be retained by the passenger information unit for a total of 13 years.
Such information is given by a passenger for the purpose of the provision of a service, namely air travel. The Commission proposal is that this information should be transmitted to state authorities for a totally different purpose, the combating of what is described as terrorism and organised crime. It is a basic data protection principle that information collected for one purpose should not be used for another purpose and should be deleted when no longer required for the purpose for which it was collected. The Commission proposal offends against this basic principle. Under the proposal, air carriers will have no choice but to hand over a complete record of an individual’s movements in and out of the European Union to a state entity that will retain it for 13 years, and not only a record of travel, but also of contact and payment information.
Many regular travellers would have difficulty recalling where they had travelled to, even in the past year. With this proposal, the state will have a detailed record of all such travel in and out of the European Union, and for a period going back 13 years. Therefore, whether it is a business trip to Singapore, a shopping trip to New York or a holiday in Morocco, the state will have full details. Can this invasion of individual privacy be considered a proportionate response to threats from the small number who may be tempted to engage in terrorism or organised crime?
One must also have concern for the ability of the state to protect the confidentiality of such information. Recent cases investigated by my office have, unfortunately, demonstrated that deliberate or inadvertent leaking or misuse of such information is a significant risk. Experience in other EU countries is no different…
There is little hard evidence of the actual usefulness of PNR passenger data in combating terrorism or organised crime. All we are presented with is general comments that such information is useful, with a small number of examples. There is even less evidence of the additional utility of PNR data over the more reliable API data that is already being collected. The result is that a key test under European law — that of proportionality — does not seem to be met. Even if one were to accept the case presented for this proposal — I do not — the protection provided for the innocent majority who have nothing to do with terrorism or organised crime is vague and inadequate. These deficiencies are spelled out in the written opinion my EU colleagues have already delivered and which has been provided to the committee.
If this proposal is implemented, we will have taken a further step to what has been called the surveillance society, where our day-to-day activities are constantly monitored and our private space is more and more restricted. We already have a situation, under data retention law, where the details of who we communicate with electronically is compulsorily stored, in case it would be useful for the investigation of crime. With this proposal, our international travel movements will be monitored by the State for the same reason. Can it only be a matter of time before this is extended to all of our movements? (Emphasis added)
The Joint Committee has now accepted these points (and also pointed out that – incredibly – neither Ryanair nor EasyJet were consulted in relation to the proposal).
What can you do about this? The responsible Irish official is the Minister for Justice. You might like to let him know that your privacy is important, and that the proposals (which Ireland has supported) are unacceptable. Ask him why he has ignored the concerns raised by the Data Protection Commissioner and proceeded with a measure based on “little evidence” with “vague and inadequate protections” for your personal information. Ask him whether he plans to ignore the concerns raised by our democratic representatives in the Joint Oireachtas Committee. Contact details? Email: email@example.com, Phone: 01 602-8202 (ask for the Minister’s Office), Fax: 01 661-5461, Snail Mail: 94 St. Stephen’s Green, Dublin 2. And of course you should cc your local TDs (details here) and let them know that this issue is important to you in deciding how you will vote.